Tomorrow, Saturday, April 27, is Independent Bookstore Day
, a one-day national party celebrating indie bookstores as part of the beating heart of their communities. Whether hosting author talks and story hours, providing restaurant recommendations to tourists or research help to students, or fiercely defending authors’ and customers’ first amendment rights, indies are so much more than places to buy novels and cute socks. Across the country, independent bookstores are among the increasingly rare public spaces where people can safely gather to share ideas, learn something new, and take a moment’s respite from a hectic, often digitized world.
Those of us who work in independent bookstores take pride in what we do. We’re here because we’re book nerds; nothing makes us happier than reading, talking about reading, anticipating our next read, and helping you find yours. To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day 2019, we're sharing our favorite bookselling stories, about customers, authors, and the reasons we believe indies are forever.
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“As a kid growing up in 1990s Portland, Powell’s was always a safe haven for me and my friends. Whenever we could convince one of our parents to drive us into town, and later, when we could drive ourselves, we spent many of our weekend hours here, combing the shelves for treasures and taking up vast amounts of space on the floor as we read and lounged.
When I had my own children, of course I wanted to share this wonderful world of stories with them. At first in a baby backpack on my partner's back, then in strollers, toddling on their own, and finally browsing by themselves, Powell’s has been a cornerstone of their growing-up years.
Bookstores have always been my safe place, a fortress from the worries and stresses of the real world. When the opportunity to work as a bookseller came up, of course I jumped on it. The look of pride on my kids' faces when I told them I got the job was priceless. And to be a part of the bookselling community here is incredible. Helping people find their stories and create memories of one of my favorite places is the best feeling in the world.” – Deana R.
“Recently, I was shopping at the Burnside store and a coworker told me that earlier in the day one of my favorite baseball writers, Keith Law, was in the store looking for me. ‘Keith Law was looking for me?!’ His book, Smart Baseball
, was my No. 1 book of 2017
; I had written a review for it, and he was in town and wanted to thank me personally. It made my day to know that the author of one of my favorite baseball books wanted to talk to me.” – Jeff J.
“When I started at Powell’s, I worked at the airport during the holidays, and one day I hand-sold Neverwhere
by Neil Gaiman to someone. He came back three hours later to say he was halfway through the book and to thank me because he was loving it so much. That's when I realized how much magic there is in connecting the right book with the right person.” – Eloise B.
“As booksellers we are tasked with taking all those wonderful moments we have experienced in bookstores ourselves and distilling them into personalized journeys of discovery for the variety of readers that visit us every day. Having the opportunity to be a tribune of the curious and servant to the written word is a constant reward; being able to meet and interact with a slew of intellectually insatiable weirdos is just a bonus.” – Justin W.
“We have a regular customer who collects the New York Times Review of Books
and has been doing so for years. They could just get a subscription and have it delivered to their house, but they enjoy coming to the store each week to pick it up and browse. I look forward to my weekly phone call letting them know that it has arrived, and have been learning a little more about them with each call.” – Angelo R.
“A book is a conduit to another world, but it's also a barrier in the physical world. Readers (myself included) tend to be very introverted, but that doesn't mean we don't long for connection. And not to get too Black Mirror
-y here, but technology tends to isolate us further. So shopping for books can be a very emotional experience, a chance to be a part of a larger community. Independent bookstores offer this opportunity, this safe haven, as well as a very individualized shopping experience. Indies are such reflections of their communities.” – Lauren P.
“Books have the ability to spark imagination, and walking into a bookstore, which is filled with such an immense quantity of creativity, is an irreplaceable feeling.” – Jayne W.
“Beyond actually having books on the shelf that you can touch and explore, bookstores provide a wealth of resources for their communities, whether it’s something simple like directions to the freeway, a list of the best local coffee shops, a quiet place to escape the rain, or a store to find the perfect last-minute gift. Just ask a bookseller. I bet they’ll have an answer.” – Ronnie C.
“[Why do I think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?] I think that for a lot of us, they remind us that everything will be okay. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends, so being surrounded by books was really comforting. It still is, honestly. After the most recent election, my first instinct was to walk down to Powell’s (this was before I worked here) and to just sit there, because I knew that I didn’t want to be alone, but I also didn’t need to actually talk to anyone. I just needed to feel safe. Bookstores will forever be a safe space.” – Katherine M.
“When we read a book we love, we’re not solely interested in a plot and its characters. The physical book and its story both become focal points for the rest of our daily experience. I’ll never forget where I was when I read certain books: the city, the season, the smell of the air. Or the smell of the air at a certain time of year will remind me of a particular book. We remember our own lives moving around in the background of our reading....[W]alking through a bookstore is like walking through a magic shop. You’re surrounded by potentiality, by future circumstances. Some items you need right now and some you might need down the road, but you get to select them… I don’t know anything that replicates that feeling.” – Stephen L.
“Bookstores are a little apart from the average retail store, or at least good bookstores are. They’re an archive of human history, a place to find a new story or revisit old ones that have affected you. I think as a species we are fundamentally drawn to and even need stories, and a brick-and-mortar bookstore is a place to quench that thirst in person, immediately.” – Tim M.
“[Why do I think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?] The simplest answer, I think, is that people just like to hold books. Shopping for books feels so luxurious, and it's an experience you can't have clicking through a website. But I also think people love the life raft of being able to ask us for help and suggestions. It can be wild out there without a bookseller.” – Emily F.
“Several years ago I was doing a shift at the information desk in our main location. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins came into the store and asked me about a book. Later, as they were exiting, a troupe of young people dressed as angels entered the store (things like that happen all the time at Powell’s). Susan turned to Tim and said, ‘I TOLD you we should have brought the camera!’” – Doug C.
“Where do you go when you need to feel a part of a community while simultaneously being alone with your thoughts? What do you do with your weekend? We can explore in two dimensions, but we live in three, and a bookstore satisfies all of the senses, including taste since most of them have some sort of cafe.” – Elizabeth N.
“Everyone, regardless of what they do or where they are in life, at some point wants to disappear into another world and be someone else, even if just for a little bit. Bookstores are magical places filled with worlds just waiting to whisk you away.” – Myka D.
“A mom was reading her kid the new (and last) Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems called The Thank You Book
. In it, Piggie thanks every character that has ever appeared in the series and then finally turns to the reader and thanks the reader. When they got to the end, the little boy gasped and in the highest little-kid voice possible said, ‘Piggie is thanking me?! HE'S THANKING ME???!!!’ and then buried his face into his mom's shoulder. My heart broke from the cuteness.” – Heather A.
“Sometimes customers are having a hard time or a problem they're confused about. They need someone to look them in the eye and really, truly listen for a bit. And that's how I find a book that might help them. Computers can't do that yet.” – Eva F.
Want to meet more of our booksellers? Check out our monthly Portrait of a Bookseller feature here