Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now the shopping season is officially on. So you have to get yourself into holiday mode, right? Here's an idea: Head to your local indie bookstore. Hear me out: I’ll be the first to admit that online shopping is convenient (if addictive), but making the effort to shop local is worth it. Especially when it comes to bookstores.
“For avid readers, a bookstore is as much part of the social fabric of the community as is an old-fashioned town square or a beloved park” Kevin O’Kelly writes in his HuffPost Books article “Indies Aren’t Dead — They’re Making a Comeback.” And I couldn't agree more. Think about the atmosphere there — everything from the bookseller you know, to the café in the back where you can set down and immediately start reading the novel you just bought — where else are you going to get that? I rest my case.
Luckily, great indie bookstores are everywhere, from San Francisco (my favorite is Green Apple Books) to Washington D.C. (home of the perennially popular Politics and Prose Bookstore), and everywhere in between. I feel particularly lucky to be able to spend countless hours wandering the aisles of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, where I live. I'm basically Belle:
The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate, the coffee is good, and the chaises are dangerously comfortable.
I get the perks of being able to shop in your pajamas, but investing in your local indie is good for everyone. Also, you could totally wear your PJs at the Tattered Cover and no one would look twice. Read on for nine more utterly compelling reasons to shop at your local indie bookstore this holiday season:
The people working at your local indie bookstore know books better than anyone — it's as simple as that. "People don’t open bookstores because they think they’re going to strike it rich slinging paperbacks," Jason Diamond writes at Flavorwire. "They do it because they genuinely love it."
Booksellers suggest books they love, with a sense of sincerity and conviction that Amazon recommendations just can't replicate. Need a gift for your little sister who happens to be a huge fan of underground film zines? A bookseller at an indie like Quimby's in Chicago will know the perfect publication, and at least for this Christmas you'll be the coolest sister ever.
Every indie bookstore is different, which is part of their charm. The cozy, '70s-feeling interior of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, couldn't be more different than the soaring, cathedral-like space that houses L.A.'s The Last Bookstore, but both are equally appealing in their own idiosyncratic ways. Bookstores are a place of refuge, and being able to lose yourself in the aisles for a bit during the craziness of the holiday shopping season is a gift in itself.
Authors are pretty loyal to the indie booksellers that build them up, and for good reason. They're the people who physically put books into readers' hands — after all, word-of-mouth is the most effective way to get people to try new stuff. Chances are your favorite author has probably put in an appearance at a nearby indie. Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, has hosted scores of literary luminaries, from Toni Morrison, to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Same with Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
So check out who's slated for a signing or reading at your local store — because what makes a better gift than a book signed by a favorite author?
Buying local is good for everyone. Think about it: Shopping at your local indie bookstore is so community-minded that even a percentage of the sales tax you pay goes to a worthy cause like K-12 education.
If that doesn't get you going, imagine what your life would be like without said bookstore. No more recommendations from the angelic book seller who introduced you to Mark Helprin (true story, it was at the amazing Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado), no more meet and greets from your favorite authors, no more cozy reading nooks. Yeah, it's grim. So get shopping, people.
I don't know what it's like at your house, but I can tell you that no one at mine is offering to make me a giant egg-nog latte with a heart when I'm done marathon shopping online. And I really need it. Especially the heart.
Generally, it's a good idea to save the bookstore stop for last, so you can enjoy your restorative coffee and ginormous chocolate chip brownie in peace. Need something with a little kick after a day of braving the holiday crowds? Some cafés, like the one in Montague Bookmill in Montague, Massachusetts, serve booze. Just make your indie bookstore your one-stop holiday shopping destination, because you'll find something for everyone on your list, and possibly cocktails for you.
The Carefully Curated Selection
Indie bookstores are businesses, and therefore need to sell things and make money. But I don't think there's any denying that someone puts a lot of thought into choosing what book resides where on the shelf, and it has to do with much more than the bottom line. You can see the care that goes into the creation of every window display, endcap, and table arrangement. It's the reason I go in for one book, and come out with 10.
Some indie stores only cater to certain genres, like The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona (isn't that the perfect name for a store that specializes in mystery and crime fiction?). Others, like the venerable City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, are really good at doing it all well.
“We’ve never adopted the ‘one of everything’ philosophy,” Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, writes in the new book The Last Bookstores: America's Resurgent Independents . “Instead [we] prefer to engage knowledgeable booksellers and to pick and choose titles carefully, hoping to excite curiosity.”At great indies, there's a person picking every book in the place, and it shows.
Book people love other book people. We get each other. There is the shared wisdom that staying up all night reading a great book is worth it each and every time. So of course we love indie bookstores. They are literary havens full of like-minded people who share smiles over shelves of Edith Wharton and Patricia Highsmith. The only time I've ever made a friend while shopping was at a bookstore. I never feel a connection when I'm shopping at J.Crew — unless it's the sample sale, and then I feel like people are making eye contact, but in a threatening, aggressive way over the last denim pencil skirt. Not friendly.
Take the stress out of holiday gift buying and do it at a place where you can relax and enjoy your fellow bibliophiles.
The Local Flavor
I really like where I live, and hopefully you do too. People who run indie bookstores, like Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans, and McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan, know and love their cities as well, and the inventory reflects that. I love being able to give Colorado cookbooks and Rocky Mountain hiking guides as Christmas presents. Usually I have an interesting little story to go along with it, because the bookseller or cashier had some awesome insider information about the local author. Local books make special gifts, and they're fun to buy.
Bookstores and cats go together like bookstores, and, well, books. I think it's because cats secretly read. Can't you totally picture a kitty casually pawing through War and Peace? You know this happens when we're not looking:
Many of the best indies have famous feline occupants, including Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York, and Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania (they have an adorable dog too). Tiny, king of the aforementioned Community Bookstore, actually has his own Twitter:
Alas, if the promise of bookstore cats and dogs won't make you shop your local indie bookstore, I fear nothing will. Visit the IndieBound website to find a store near you.