TCS: Independent Bookstores – Dreams Built of Wood and Paper

. . . Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


You see, bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper.
They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power.
They are, simply put, the best of places.

― Jen Campbell, ‘The Bookshop Book’



On our Never-Ending Honeymoon, we always stop at two of our favorite bookstores, Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara, and the Book Loft in Solvang. Each year, I heave a sigh of relief when I see they are still open, especially because we lost the wonderful Earthling Bookstore in Santa Barbara after a Barnes & Noble opened just a couple blocks down the street, and seduced their customers with cheaper prices.

As of March, 2018, there were 2,321 independent bookstores in the U.S.

The startling news is that the number of independent bookstores grew by 35% between 2009 and 2015, during the “retail apocalypse,” which pitted Amazon against every retail outlet in America. According to Paddy Hirsch and Ryan Raffaellie in an interview on NPR, between 2015 and 2018, the growth has continued, and it’s now over 40% since 2009.

This was after the decades between the 1970s and the early 2000s, when neighborhood bookshops closed, one after another after another, because of the rise of the mega shopping mall, then chain bookstores like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, followed by the big-box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, selling books cheaper, and offering cafes and couches. But the coup de gras was supposed to be the introduction of the Kindle in 2007, which was to end printed books entirely.

But while Amazon decimated the independent bookstores, it really crushed the corporate chains and big-box booksellers. Borders went out of business. Suddenly, there was a gap open for the little indies to fill. A place where you could actually see the books, take one off the shelf and page through it, maybe talk to someone else who also loves books, and take your new books home to read right away, instead of paying less at Amazon, but without any human contact, then having to wait for the books to arrive.

Profit margins on books are razor-thin, and it’s hard to find a location that’s affordable to rent in the kind of community that will really support a bookstore. But something strange is happening – real estate developers are starting to look at independent bookstores differently. Some developers now see an independent bookstore as a mark of ‘authenticity,’ an anchor to build their mall around. Some are willing to give deals on rent to get a bookshop to open in their mall – the something a little different that will set their mall apart from every other mall full of all the same chain clothing stores, multiplex movie theaters, and Starbucks coffee stores.

The indies are also selling books online, through outlets like Alibris. Often their prices on used books are better than Amazon when you compare shipping charges. Some of the specialty independents, like the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona, have branched out into publishing a careful and limited selection of the genre of books they sell.

The small independent bookstores are rising from the ashes. May they live long and prosper!


Do you have a favorite bookstore?


Books Aloft, print by David Wiesner
Combined with Poetry Week print by Wiesner in header



About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
This entry was posted in The Coffee Shop and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to TCS: Independent Bookstores – Dreams Built of Wood and Paper

  1. My favorite bookstore is Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi. Remarkable store.

    I remember when John Evans and his wife had a dream. Small store in a two room walk-up at a small boutique mall. They had an idea to have one of just about everything no one else had. The store outgrew that tiny space. They moved to a larger mall with a more spacious, beautifully decorated, store. Outgrew that after a few years. Then, when a large new commercial building was built nearby, Lemuria took over most of the entire second floor. The Lemuria bookstore has books you cannot find anywhere else.

    Slideshow Tour of Lemuria Book Store with 360º slides.

Comments are closed.