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Independent Bookstores: Our Favorites, Past and Present

independent bookstores grolier poetry and globe corner book shop in harvard squareLet’s Celebrate Independent Bookstores! April 28 is National Independent Bookstore Day. How will you honor the day?

Cambridge, MA, where I attended both college and grad school, had to be one of the most independent bookstore-rich towns in the 80’s and 90’s. You could find the independent bookstore that fed your particular craving, solved your specific problem or could help you conquer your current challenge—all in that uniquely book-scented environment, each store with its singular decor, texture and ambiance.

All The Bookstores I Have Loved Before

I bought my first volume of Mary Oliver’s poetry at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square on the recommendation of a sales associate there—my first hardcover, full priced poetry purchase!  I think it may have been 1990 and I had just rejoined the workforce after grad school. House of Light lived up to its title and I dearly loved it. I returned whenever I had the discretionary income for poetry. A google search finds that the bookstore has survived! I’m planning a visit and bringing more than my pocket change.

A bit closer to “the Square” lived The Globe Corner Bookstore, where my husband and I bought the travel guides that would determine the two Greek islands we picked to visit for our honeymoon—Santorini for its exquisite photos and Skyros for its off-the-beaten-path descriptions. Despite a 40,000 page “most comprehensive travel site on the web” (according to Wikipedia) the store closed in 2011. Thank you Globe for our personal discovery of Skyros, before it became a new age destination.

New Words Bookstore, in neighboring Somerville, raised my consciousness as a woman, helped me heal, opened my eyes to the possibility of a divine feminine. I bought Trauma and Recovery, When God was a Woman, and the The Courage to Heal. These books helped me through the darkest of times and inspired creativity and healing movement as well. New Words helped me stay healthy through my first pregancy and prepare for delivery with books like Spiritual Midwifery and The Natural Pregnancy Book. These books transformed my view of childbirth from one of absolute fear to one of a natural, miraculous, normal and wonderous event. These books gave me back my power as a woman. New Words closed in 2002, shortly after I left the Boston area for Rhode Island.

Seven Stars in Central Square fed the mystic in me. On a tight budget at the time, I often shopped the sale shelves or just browsed to be inspired. I read Carlos Castaneda and returned to Hermann Hesse. I watched the people who came into the shop, browsed the shelves and wondered about their inner lives. Was the ponytailed man a weekend shaman? The sixty-year-old woman in a gypsy skirt a wise grandmother with a knowledge of herbs?

When I moved to Rhode Island I discovered other independent bookstores. My favorite?—the incredibly magical The Other Tiger, with its enchanting children’s room and rows of books on writing. My friend Tracy and I would drive down to Westerly for an indulgent book purchase on our stay-at-home mom budgets when our kids were toddlering. Closed in 2014.

I admit, today I buy most of my books on Amazon. It’s cheap. It’s easy. I don’t waste money on gas.

big magic bought at independent bookstores like wakefield booksMy Favorite Local Independent Bookstore

But the experience pales in comparison to my visits to Wakefield Books (yes, we are so lucky in South County—an independent bookstore that fiercely supports authors and caters to those on a budget with its extensive, carefully selected bargain books). There, I recently purchased Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (you can still order the hardcover version for only $8.98 there today!). I tend go to Wakfield books to find gifts for birthdays, holidays, a child away for the week at sleepaway camp (the latter turning up more than just books—a puzzle, a book lamp for night reading, a 3D bookmark). I know the staff will always lead me to something special—the perfect gift for the person whose tastes I describe.

As readers, independent bookstores enrich our lives and help us find books in satisfying ways. As authors, independent bookstores mean even more. It’s the independent bookstores that often give a book by an unknown author its initial lift by sharing it with readers who would otherwise not find it. The independents give readers a place to find your book, not just by keyword but by staff recommendations and placement on a table of books by local authors, for example, something Wakefield Books always does.

Why Authors Need Independent Bookstores

Here are some of the many ways independent bookstores support authors:

Discoverability: Amazon and other retailers show readers books based on algorithms which tend to favor older, proven books or experienced, well-known authors.

Diversity: One can argue that there is great diversity on Amazon, but how easy is it to access? How easy will it be for readers to find your book if it doesn’t fit particular keywords in a search or a particular algorithm, or the corporate decisions of a large chain bookstore?

Community: Independent Bookstore open their doors to author readers and other events, introducing you to new readers who may become lifelong fans and share your work, feeling more connection than if they hadn’t met you personally.

Connection and Opportunity: Independent bookstores can help connect you in the wider community of independent stores nationally. When I presented a workshop at the Association of Rhode Island Authors a few years ago, its president and founder Steven R. Porter shared a story about a  local middle school student who wrote and self-published a book which generated strong local sales. At a conference, Wakefield Books’ owner told other bookstore owners of the book’s success. These stores stocked the book, exponentially boosting regional and national sales and, eventually, resulting in a traditional book deal with a fancy author’s advance!

I don’t want to imagine a world without local, independent bookstores. Do you?

Let us celebrate and support our independent bookstores.Let us celebrate and support our independent bookstores. Click To Tweet

We are so lucky for the ones we have left. Let’s remember to shop there when we can. For independent bookstores to survive, we need to support them. If you buy crazy numbers of books, perhaps you can’t buy them all at your independent, but consider deciding on the percentage of your book buying budget you wish to use to support the independents near you. You can also consider buying books at Powell’s online, the largest independent bookstore.

What’s your favorite favorite bookstore—past and present? Do you have a story about the support you received from an independent bookstore? Or a benefit to add to my list? Please share your favorite moments—as a reader or a writer.

 

 

 

 

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Rusty Shelton says

    BookPeople in Austin, TX is my favorite independent bookstore. In addition to going out of their way to host our book signing, they also regularly feature both big name and indie authors side by side.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, Rusty, I love that concept. A great way to help indie authors connect with readers and succesful authors!

  2. Steven Porter says

    Independent bookstores are all about discovery. Amazon is convenient, but not browsable. The chain stores carry mountains of bestsellers, but rarely take a shot with a local or unknown author.

    The story you mention about the teen author who made it big with the help of a local indie bookstore is true. That author was Sean Fay Wolfe who at age 16 wrote the first book in his “Elementia Chronicles” series. The end result was a three-book contract with HarperCollins and a book tour that took him to San Diego Comic Con, London and Dubai. Not bad for a kid not yet in college.

    Indies play an invaluable role in identifying our next great authors.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, Steve, even more inspiring that I realized. What an exciting adventure for a teen (or anyone) and so lovely that Wakefield Books played a big part.

  3. geri lafferty says

    I’ve got a few favorite independent bookstores.

    The first is an unusual one: It’s a tiny shop in my neighborhood that exclusively sells cookbooks and books on food. Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco is a real gem. Not only do they stock current books, but also share a collection of rare and vintage books. And as a special bonus, they host author events nearly every day of the week! The tiny store attracts local authors, plus luminaries like Jacque Pepin (just last week!) and Giada de Laurentiis, to name a few. Foodies come from all over the world to visit this little store.

    The other is a neighborhood bookstore called Bird & Beckett Books and Records, where you can hear some of the finest jazz on the West Coast every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “Jazz in the Bookshop” attracts musicians from all over the Bay Area who love the cozy atmosphere of playing on a little platform among the stacks to a very appreciative crowd. There are also regular author events. They even have a bookstore cat 🙂

    Next time you are in San Francisco, look up these fine indies and show them some love.

  4. Stephen Snyder MD says

    I agree Indie bookstores play a crucial role in the cultural life of a community and as a resource for readers and writers. Here on NYC’s Upper West Side, Book Culture on Columbus Avenue is a favorite of mine. Relaxed ambience, friendly folks, great selection. In Miami, I love Mitchell Kaplan’s Books and Books in Coral Gables, which has been so successful he’s opened several others in South Florida. Lastly, since someone above mentioned San Francisco, let’s not forget Lawrence Ferlighetti’s original City Lights Bookstore. Long before there was an internet, I wasted untold hours there browsing through the wide assortment of wild, crazy self-published stuff that lined its shelves — things that back then you couldn’t find anywhere else.

    • Lisa Tener says

      I will have to check those out when traveling! Thanks, Steve. At the very least I’ll make it to NYC’s Book Culture.

  5. Andrejka Coklyat says

    Dear Lisa, The picture of the bookstore in the email today is what brought me to your blog. I was hoping to see more photos of most charming bookstores…And yes, When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone was amazing. Her Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood is wonderful as well. For me, San Francisco’s Crystal Way was a favorite. When I went to college in Massachusetts, there was a Northhampton book store where I got Ruth Gendlers’ Book of Qualities. That book is one of the only sort of book of poems I loved, along with only Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Normadi Ellis’ Awakening Osiris.

    • Lisa Tener says

      I tend to put the time into the writing, but you are right– this is a post that would benefit from some lovely pictures. Perhaps you or another reader wants to send some favorite bookstore pics and I will add them to the post! Thanks for sharing your favorites. Do you have any pictures of them? The Prophet was a favorite book of mine in college, a graduation gift from my parents. And a lovely folk artist, painter in Woodstock New York gifted me with another copy of it a few years later. Special memories of that book. Thanks, Andrejka!

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