Simply stated, there is something magical about being in an ‘indie’ bookstore. It is a shopping experience unlike any other. Maybe it’s because you know that within each thoughtfully selected, alphabetized spine is an adventure waiting to be uncovered, an epic love story waiting to be shared, a mystery to unfurl. Or maybe it’s because of the laid-back pace of a neighborhood bookstore where browsing is not only accepted but encouraged. Even the sidelines that are offered, the non-book toy and gift items, are a pleasure to peruse. You know they must be pretty darn special to be chosen to be part of a bookstore’s selective product mix.
With all of that said, the challenges indie bookstores face these days are numerous: competition from big box stores that have the ability to discount the same titles, on-line resources such as Amazon and BN.com, and let’s not forget the dawn of the e-reader phenomenon. It’s no wonder independently owned bookstores across the nation have started to vanish from the landscape at an alarming pace.
Despite that reality, Rhode Island, as small a state as it is, boasts several indie bookstores that remain destinations within their respective communities: Books on the Square in the heart of Providence’s East Side, Island Books in Portsmouth, Island Bound Bookstore on Block Island, and of course, Barrington Books in Barrington, to name a few. Barrington Books has recently celebrated 25 years in business - that’s quite an accomplishment in this retail climate.
So what’s the secret to indie bookstore success?
I could answer in so many different, verbose ways; instead I will close with this short tale of recently walking into a local indie bookstore and immediately becoming enamored with the place. I ran in to pick something up fifteen minutes before closing time. Maybe it was the fact that it was dark out and the other neighboring businesses were already closed for the night, or maybe it was seeing the booksellers in their aprons keeping busy, tending to their beloved store; but seeing the warm welcoming glow of the fluorescents drew me into what felt like Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – it was that magical. My 10-year-old daughter was with me and she too was lost in her discoveries. This bookstore was more like a snapshot of the community it serves. The books on the shelves are selected based on the buying trends of its customers; the beautiful selection of fine stationery and writing accessories were of the highest quality, yet priced reasonably – again reflecting the desire to meet the expectation of its educated, cost-conscious customer; the comfy chair nestled in a corner where a patron unsure of her selection was encouraged by the store owner to sit and read the first two chapters before deciding. Needless to say, we left that store with a full bag of tomes and treasures and a sense that we were part of something wonderful.
Did you know that when you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits?*
When you spend $100 at a local business, $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43. Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors. More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong.
Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint. Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you. Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains. More independents mean more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.
* Source: IndieBound.org