While the debate over print versus e-books rages on, and large booksellers like Borders go out of business, I believe our small indie bookstores still have qualities we love too much to let go. Prompted by the recent closure of a local bookshop, which now stands sadly dark with a FOR SALE sign in the window, I began to imagine what I might do to save this shop. During my travels (since I pretty much can’t pass a bookshop without going inside), I’ve visited many indie bookshops and found most of them to have some select charming qualities. Here is a list of the top 6 favorite qualities that I would definitely incorporate:
- That old book smell. (Found at Observatory Books in Juneau, Alaska)
Last time I was in a rare book & used indie bookshop I may have succumbed to a fit of sneezing from all the dust lying heavily on the previously-loved books, but it just wouldn’t be the same without that combined smell of paper, dust, and wooden bookshelves. (Edit 2018: Observatory Books has closed.)
- Handwritten book reviews taped to the shelves. (Found at The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Washington)
I don’t know about you, but when I stroll the endless shelves of unfamiliar books I can begin to feel overwhelmed. I loved the Elliott Bay Book Company’s solution to this problem by adding staff’s hand-written reviews to the shelves. Had I instead gone to the staff at the counter and asked for a recommendation, I would not have ended up with half so many as were available. I also might have specified my recommendation request by genre, whereas the hand written reviews led me to genres I might have simply otherwise passed by. Genius.
- A coffee shop/cafe where you can spend all day studying with your food, books, a laptop, and friends! (Found at Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, Massachusetts & Old Harbor Books & The Backdoor Cafe, Sitka, Alaska)
Trident Books in Boston has the best breakfast waffles and bookstore combination I’ve come across! The small chairs and tables, however, did not invite spending much time beyond finishing your breakfast. Old Harbor Books & the Backdoor Cafe, while actually two different establishments, function similarly. The cozy cafe behind the bookstore has a very inviting atmosphere where you might stay a while with your coffee and books. My own bookshop would similarly have a comfortable ambiance where you could study & work with your books and sustenance. It would also have larger tables for group study or book club meetings. It would be better than studying at a library because you could have your coffee and breakfast next to your books on the table! And at least when you’ve bought the books you can spill as much coffee as you want! Be honest, how many times have you spilled coffee on your books when attempting this at home? And there would be no librarian shushing your book club and meal with friends!
- Author talks & book signings (Found at Brookline Booksmith, Boston, Massachusetts) There would be just enough space for authors to promote their books with readings and signings. Boston was impressively good at providing free access to book talks by well known authors. While the Boston Public Library had large lecture rooms for the events that would draw large crowds, I was happy to attend readings in the smaller, more intimate space provided at Brookline Booksmith. I will never forget being crammed shoulder to shoulder with standing room only to listen to John Krasinksy performing a reading. (No, he’s not an author, but he was reading passages of a book he had adapted into a film.)
- Literary related gifts from indie retailers. While the bookshelves are alluring, I also appreciate shops that sell literary nick-knacks. For example, candles that smell like old books, literary printed clothing, or jewelry in the shape of books & bookcases. (Has anyone actually tried these candles? I’ve seen them all over the internet lately. Do they really smell as they promise?) In this small way, the indie bookshop can also help support other indie retailers.
- A bookstore cat. (Found at Haverford College Campus Bookstore (Cat has been fired due to allergies), Boston Book Annex (Now closed), to name a couple)
Allergies aside (I’ll find a hypoallergenic cat!), an independent bookstore just isn’t the same without a cat running it. Am I right?
Unfortunately the size of the local bookshop for sale is too small for some of these dreams, so I won’t be opening up my own place quite yet. Until then, I plan to continue my travels in search of the perfect indie bookshop!