Top Ten Reasons to Shop at Independent Bookstores by Josh Funk
I’m very lucky. Tomorrow the fourth book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, Short & Sweet comes out.
But that’s not why I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I live in a town with an independent bookstore. I wish everyone could live in a town with one. But whether there’s one in your town, one town over, or forty towns over, here are my top ten reasons why everyone should support indie bookshops (in no particular order)
- Indie Bookshops = Local Nerdy Hotspots
One of the best ways to find your local Nerdy Book Club community is at your local indie bookshop!
I met my first local Nerdy friends (do we capitalize Nerdy? I say yes!), Lesley, Melissa, and Jason, at a Lynda Mullaly Hunt signing at Wellesley Books back in 2015. We all went out for ice cream after and have been friends ever since – all except for Melissa who had to drive home to Maine. I mean she didn’t have ice cream. We are friends.
Side note: later that year we all shared a van at nErDcamp in Michigan. Here’s a picture of me, Lesley, Melissa, and Jason in our first annual Nerd Van with fellow nerdcampers Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Lauren Castillo.
And to show my love and appreciation for the Nerdy Book Club and nErDcamps everywhere, I dedicated Short & Sweet to YOU:
- Independent Book Fairs
Did you know that many indie bookshops support school book fairs? Off the top of my head I know that Children’s Book World in the Philadelphia, PA suburbs, Anderson’s Bookshop in the Chicago, IL suburbs, Porter Square Books in the Boston, MA suburbs all have dedicated teams that bring books TO your school for book fairs! (and for those who’ve been to nErDcampMI in the past, I’m sure you can attest that Bookbug in Kalamazoo, MI does fantastic offsite events)
And there are other bookshops, like my local indie, The Concord Bookshop, that periodically host Book Fairs at the stores. On those days, the school encourages families to visit the bookstore and a percentage of the day’s sales go to the school.
Check with your local indie to see if they support book fairs? If they don’t, maybe they’d like to start!
- That Bookstore Smell
Not quite as musty as the ancient library smell, and a lot better than opening a package filled mostly with bubble wrap. You know what I’m talking about.
- Booksellers Are Magical People
Many of us (I assume) have dreamed of someday opening a bookstore. And in that dream, we’re usually relaxing, drinking hot chocolate, and reading for most of the day (you have the same dream, right?. Occasionally we might help someone find a book and check them out, but we’ll be back to our book before the hot chocolate cools.
Apparently (I’ve been told) this is NOT what working at a bookshop is like. There’s a lot more:
- Meeting sales reps
- Ordering books
- Accepting & stocking deliveries
- Packaging returns
- Organizing and publicizing events
- Creating newsletters
- Social media promotion
- … and of course helping customers find books
Notice reading isn’t in there? Booksellers don’t get to read while on the clock. I know. I was shocked, too.
Now consider that nearly overnight, bookshops also (a) have become distribution centers, (b) offer home delivery services, (c) offer curbside pickup, and (d) have begun accepting more internet and phone orders than was previously conceivable.
I’d call that a pretty magical transformation.
- Keeps Money Local
You’ve heard it a lot over the last decade: shop local. But how does the $17.99 you spent on that picture book go back into your local community? Local retailers pay state and local taxes. Taxes pay for things like schools, libraries, infrastructure. Big international organizations often don’t pay state and local taxes. Look it up. It’s true.
And if you don’t have a local bookstore, indie or otherwise, there are two great options:
- Visit org and find a bookstore relatively near you (or far away) and support them.
- Shop at org where a portion of the proceeds of every sale get spread around to indie bookshops all around the country.
- Bookstores Are Part of the Nerdy Online Community
Whether it’s Brain Lair Books in South Bend, IN or The Silver Unicorn in Acton, MA loads of indie bookshops are paying attention to what us nerds are tweeting when deciding which books to stock. I mean, Brain Lair Books’ owner & founder Kathy Burnette has been part of the Nerdy Book Club since its inception. It’s not just educators and creators; booksellers are part of our community, too.
- Hidden Gems
Most indies have their own style or flavor. The Concord Bookshop has a plethora of books about the American revolution for obvious reasons. They also have many books by and about local authors like Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne (I’ve always wondered what happened to his middle name), as well as local not dead authors like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gregory Maguire, and Samantha Power (I’ll certainly never get a big head living in this town…).
But they also always have a great selection of foreign import picture books. The buyer, John, definitely has a specific taste when ordering picture books – and it’s always fun to see what he finds. He’s also a huge fan of Pamela Zagarenski and Julia Sarcone-Roach – their books are always on display when they have new releases. And did you know you can flip through the whole picture book at the bookstore to see if you like it? Not just the first 8 pages! *wink*
Sure, indie bookshops will have the best-sellers and can recommend the obvious books you might like if you like best-sellers. But it’s these hidden gems that keep you coming back.
- Storytimes and More Events
During the best of times, bookshops know their clientele and plan in-person events accordingly. But even during the pandemic, bookstores are still hosting storytimes on every streaming platform imaginable. If you follow enough bookshops on Instagram, there’s almost no time of day during waking hours that some store isn’t currently live with a storytime.
But it’s not just storytimes. Many bookshops like Brookline Booksmith are holding virtual book clubs for all ages. An Unlikely Story has been holding Virtual Trivia Nights and Virtual Open Mics. Bookshops are some of the best places to stay connected while staying home.
- Signed & Personalized Books
Did you know that you can often get signed (and personalized) books by your favorite creators mailed directly to you? Many authors & illustrators, when possible, offer signed copies through their local bookshops:
- Want a copy of YOUR NAME IS A SONG signed by author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow? Contact Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia today!
- Want A WISH IN THE DARK signed and personalized by Christina Soontornvat? Head over to BookPeople.
- Want a signed & personalized Kate Messner title? Place an order at The Bookstore Plus.
There’s a good chance your favorite authors do this. Check their websites (mine are available through The Concord Bookshop).
For all other authors & illustrators reading this, drop a link to your local bookshop’s signed books page in the comments. And if you’re a creator who doesn’t yet do this, you totally should if you’ve got a local indie you shop at regularly.
- Bookshops Are Community
When I open the door to my local bookshop and hear the familiar jingle of the bell on the door, Sarah or Dana or whoever’s checking out customers gives a warm greeting. As I walk back to the children’s section, I might pass Christine helping a customer find the perfect give for a granddaughter or wave at Art as he’s shelving new releases. I try to avoid interrupting Matt as he’s calling people with the good news – the books they’ve ordered are ready for pickup! And Maybe I’ll even catch John in between meetings with sales reps.
Everyone knows me by my first name (even with my mask on). But it’s not just me. They know all the regulars. They know what books we like. They make sure to tell my kids when a new graphic novel is released or if they just read an ARC of a new Marie Lu book.
Bottom line: the booksellers are our friends.
I wish everyone had their own local independent bookshop. And I also wish I could visit each one. But because I can’t, I connected with as many as I could to offer you, the reader, every incentive to shop locally, especially during these trying times – but you have to take advantage of the offer fast!
For every copy of Short & Sweet preordered from one of the 75+ independent bookshops listed here (or your own local indie if it’s not listed – just message me), you’ll also receive four exclusive collector’s cards and a signed bookplate (but because the book comes out tomorrow – today’s the last day to preorder it).
And while you’re at it, consider ordering some additional books from your local indie (or whatever indie you order from). Because I love my indie bookshops. And now you know all the reasons that you should, too.
Josh Funk is a software engineer and the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more. For more information about Josh, visit him at joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.