In the Age of Sustainability, Less is More

Ann Patchett surprised (and thrilled) many when she announced that she planned to open up an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. In an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm, Patchett explains her reason for the new venture:

[Nashville has] used bookstores, but the closest Barnes and Noble is 20 miles outside of town. And, …I can’t live in a city that doesn’t have a bookstore. . . . The bookstores that closed in Nashville…were both over 30,000 square feet…it’s kind of this model for what’s gone on in our country in so many different ways. We just super-sized. We got bigger and bigger and bigger. . . . We can’t sustain a 30,000 foot bookstore, but we really can sustain a 3,000 square foot store. *

This post isn’t meant to dig on Amazon or Barnes and Noble; there is value in those stores as well. But, independent bookstores provide a different kind of environment that I treasure, a smaller more intimate venue, where readers and writers come together.

It was at Next Chapter Book Shop, an independent store in my area, where I saw two of my favorite authors, Beth Hoffman and Rebecca Rasmussen. I’d read both their books before I attended their readings. And, I’d already seen Rebecca at an independent store in Illinois the week before I saw her at Next Chapter (I worried a bit that Rebecca might think I was stalking her when I showed up at yet another of her readings). But, I wouldn’t have missed either author’s event.

Rebecca read from one of my favorite chapters in her novel and illustrated the main reason I love these kinds of events at smaller stores: I heard the author herself read the words of The Bird Sisters out loud, sans mic, just a few feet in front of me, which added another dimension to – and a deeper experience of – her novel. It was the same when I heard Beth Hoffman read the first chapter of hers, Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt. Plus, meeting both Beth and Rebecca at smaller reading events allowed me to talk with them a little longer afterward.

It’s possible I could have had the same experience at a national chain. But, in a recent newsletter from Next Chapter Book Shop, the owner, Lanora Haradon Hurley, lists more reasons to support your independent store (a list that originated from Indiebound.org). Here are just a few:

When you buy local…

…You nurture community. We know you, and you know us. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains.

…You create more choice. We pick the items we sell based on what we know you like and want. Local businesses carry a wider array of unique products because we buy for our own individual market.

…You make us a destination. The more interesting and unique we are as a community, the more we will attract new neighbors, visitors, and guests. This benefits everyone!

These reasons, along with the old adage that less is more, make it clear why, even if we have an account with Amazon or shop at Barnes and Noble, we should still stop in at the independent bookstores in our neighborhoods. In doing so, we invest in our own communities and support those authors who take the time to stop at these stores during book tours, even when the audiences may be small in numbers.

What’s the name of your favorite independent bookstore? And, is that where you met your favorite author?

~

In the Milwaukee Metropolitan area, we’re lucky to have more than one independent. Visit them all:

Also, check out this short but compelling video from Lanora (found on Next Chapter’s website) about buying local.

* The above quote was taken from an article in The Nashville Scene, which quotes the NPR interview as well.

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13 responses to “In the Age of Sustainability, Less is More

  1. My favorite (sadly the other one closed) is Kepler’s in Menlo Park, California. I haven’t met my favorite authors there. Several favorites I’ve never met. I did have a chance to hear Joyce Carol Oakes interviewed at City Arts and Lectures in San Francisco, but the crowd was large, so there wasn’t a chance for 1-1 interaction.

    Great post, and I love the name of that new Indie bookstore.

    • Cathryn,
      Does Kepler’s bring in authors? I suppose not all Indie stores do. And, what a treat to have heard Joyce Carol Oates! I’m in the middle of her novel, The Falls right now.

      • They do host authors and I’ve gone to events for a few local authors. They seem to focus a fair amount on non-fiction authors.

        I loved The Falls. Let me know what you think. (Of course, I’d say that about 97% of her books, so perhaps that doesn’t mean much!)

  2. hi!

    i also love the slogan: “support your local dealer”, which comes true if you talk about books.
    and as every year, my plan is to print out the wishlist from my amazon account and walk over to my local book shop to order the books there. maybe you already know, that here in austria (europe) there is a fixed price for every book and you are not allowed to sell books beyond or lower than that.
    this also means that there is no difference here between the pricing of amazon or the local shop – i guess, there is a difference in the united states.

    why i did not do this last year is just about the comfort, amazon is providing. “one click” shopping and there we go: the postman brings the package to the door, no problem, no effort.

    thanks for this posting anyway as it reminds me to do better this year,
    best regards from austria,
    jr

    http://twilightofgods.wordpress.com/

    • J.R.
      Thanks for stopping by. I didn’t know about the pricing in Austria, very interesting. I can understand, too, about the convenience of ordering online. The internet makes it so easy, which is another reason to keep in mind the stores that offer face-to-face interaction. I like your idea about printing off a wish list, too.

  3. Terrific post, Christi! You’re absolutely right, the independents offer the best personal atmosphere, and their the author events are always so lovely and intimate. I’m so sad that our Indie closed.

    Thanks so much for mentioning me in your post. I loved meeting you in person and hope to see you again soon. I consider you a true PVSG (Purple Velvet Sofa Girlfriend)!

  4. I love this post, Christi! My favorite local independent is Annie Bloom’s in Portland, where I know one of the staff members and several others by sight. The store does bring in authors, but I go to less events than I did before having my kiddo. Of course I also live nearby the big (biggest?) independent, Powell’s, which I love for different reasons. And thankfully it seems to be doing just fine. All the big-name authors stop there.

    • Laura,

      Life as a mom does make it a little more challenging to get to readings. I’m grateful when I can get to one every few months. And, Portland sounds like such a great place. Someday I’ll visit!

  5. I almost wrote a post about this once because something I heard struck a chord with me as well. As I was standing in line to have the Great Diana Gabaldon sign my book, I overheard Vivien, owner of Rainy Day Books, speak to another attendee about why buying local vs. Amazon is so important. You listed them all in your post and they really hit home for me. Rainy Day Books here in Kansas City has found the right formula for making the indie bookstore work. It may be convenient and easy to hit the online sources, but in the long run, I am chipping away at the mortar of my local indie bookstore.

    I don’t get down to Rainy Day much (30 minute drive for me) so I try to order books from them when I buy as they have a great online presence now. They also bring in so many great authors for signings and I try an attend as many as them as I can.

    When I visit family and friends back in Omaha, I love to visit The Bookworm. It is near my father-in-law’s house and there is a locally owned coffee shop right next door. Perfection! I wish there were as many indies as there are Walgreens. I need one on every corner!

    • Hallie,

      You bring up two good points to remember: 1) many indie bookstores have online services and 2) I need to be more patient. Most of the time when I find myself in a bigger chain store, it’s because my local independent didn’t have the book and I didn’t want to wait for it to be ordered.

      Thanks for your comment.

  6. Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA was unparalleled. You could go in and say you were interested in a mystery that you started at your aunt’s house that might have taken place in Nowhere, Ohio or maybe it was Arkansas in the 1950’s or maybe it was the 1960’s and you can’t remember anything else about it… In about 30 seconds Kate would put the book in your hand. The store closed sometime after I moved from Boston. It was an all-time great book store.

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