Resurgence of Indie Bookstores Fueled by Connection, Community

In News by Dennis Abrams

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles offers a dramatic architectural experience.

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles offers a dramatic architectural experience.

Indie bookstores in the US have thrived and there’s no secret to their success: it is about creating experiences, building community, and connecting.

By Dennis Abrams

At The Week, after reminding us of the predictions in the 2000s that independent bookstores were on their deathbed, Jessica Hullinger looked at the recent revival of independent bookstores (the number of stores has risen by 27%, with sales outpacing those of book sales in general), and offered up four reasons for their success:

They offer customers “an experience.”

Josh Spencer, owner of The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles said, “I definitely wanted to create an experience. I thought, people aren’t gonna come just to buy books, because they can buy them on Amazon.”

And indeed, shopping there is an experience, a mixture of “architectural flair” including, for example, a tunnel made entirely of books.

“You see it a lot on Tumblr of Instagram,” manager Katie Orphan said. “We’ve had a really wonderful advantage in that our store is not just a place to pick up whatever book you need but it’s also a place that people go for the experience of having come here. You get a unique experience with a bookstore you can’t get online.”

The human connection

Bookstores have really human employees. Real people can recommend books in a way that Amazon can never hope to. As John “The Fault in Our Stars” Green told BuzzFeed, “You cannot invent an algorithm that is as good at recommending books as a good bookseller. And that’s the secret weapon of the bookstore – is that no algorithm will ever understand readers the way that other readers can understand readers.”

Independent bookstores are selling more than books.

At New York City’s legendary The Strand for example, stationary, bags, t-shirts, etc. make up 15% of the stores revenue.

Publishing analyst Thad McIlroy noted that, “There’s no reason to be a purist, but there’s every reason to say, ‘Well customers are coming in, what is it we can offer them that they’ll give us cash for and make them like coming in here more than they did they day before?’”

They build on and enhance a sense of community.

As Hullinger wrote: Author readings, kids events, and panel discussions all help make the independent bookstore not just a place to buy books, but a place to commune and exchange ideas.”

Andrew Unger of Brooklyn’s BookCourt says the store holds 30 events a month that bring in hundreds of people. “For so many families in Brooklyn, this is kind of like their living room,” he says. “We can be a store that’s a reflection of the community, supported by the community, and we can be a meeting place for people. On the weekends, this is always the place where people meet before movies. And we can rely on that.”

“Every store has its own reason why it survives,” Unger told The Week. “Every store has a different way of going about it. One thing we’re just really grateful for is there’s a community here that wants us to be here and so they make sure we’re able to be here.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.