Saving Private Bookstores: Why Indie Bookstores Matter

Stories need a home—there is no better home than an independent bookstore.

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When I think of independent bookstores, I think of home. But then I think of Greece.

I remember having spent an entire day on the beach and when the sun went down, running to catch the bus back to my hotel. In my commute, I passed a winding set of stairs down to a warmly lit shop below the sidewalk. Then noticed these colorful books suspended along a white wall next to the entrance and a sign that read Atlantis Books.

A clock told me two things: they were nearly closed, and that I might miss my bus. But it was like a magnet—without hesitation, my friends and I ran into the glowing shop and talked to one of the booksellers. That memory has been cemented as one of my favorites, and it changed the way I cherish books as objects of memory. It changed how I read—I buy books to discover the story within the pages, but also to make memories in my own life that books serve to remind me of. I buy books with that in mind now, less haphazardly and more with the intent of creating a memory.

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Atlantis Books in Greece

One of the beauties of reading is the moment when you decide you want to start a new book. Whether you realize it or not, your world shifts. You’re about to enter a new universe, meet new characters, learn new words.

Deciding you want to dive into a brand new story can happen in so many different ways: maybe you saw a post about it online, maybe a friend recommended it to you, or maybe you’ve been admiring the author for ages. But my favorite way to find a new book is by walking, half-dazed and excited, through a small bookstore I have never visited before.

It feels a bit like walking through a maze. You’re surrounded on all sides by so many carefully placed works of art that you’ve never seen before and you want to walk by them all, open them up and walk through them, into the worlds they create. But by walking through the door, you’ve also just walked into a new world yourself—this place has a story.

These are the benefits and the beauty of independent bookstores. The perks aren’t just personal, either. It’s a broken-record fact at this point that communities and economies benefit when small, independent business are supported. It’s a beautiful thing to consider the fact that books can do this—they can help a local economy, and they can create a sense of community and space for people to come together. It feels worth the fun and adventure of finding independent bookstores wherever you live—that’s part of the magic. They’re everywhere.

To say “support local independent bookstores” is nothing new—saying “support local business” is not a revolutionary idea, and I won’t pretend it is. But what’s interesting to me is considering the real-world power of books, the way that we can allow stories to extend themselves by giving them a place and then giving their place a story.

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Shakespeare and Company in Paris

What I mean is that when I look at my stack of books that I’ve collected (and intend to keep growing), one of the first books that catch my eye is a thick, yellow-spined book called Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. And I think about the story—the myths, legends, characters and the magic—surrounding that bookstore. (How does one small shop can encompass centuries of people and places?) That if I were to map out all the places I’ve journeyed in this world, it would map a constellation of strange bookstores I’ve discovered along the way, like souvenirs for the mind. But I do this on purpose, and that is my point. The home for those books, those stories, became a home for my own story.

Most arguments in support of indie bookstores often procured in the form of arguments against the way our society has come to exist. People move too fast, not taking the necessary time to slow down and revel in the small gems their cities have to offer, speeding off to the biggest chain store and rushing out, they’ll say.

I am not interested in this critique of fastness, of quick consumption—I live in New York City. I wash down my anti-anxiety medicine with coffee. I get it. We live in a fast world and saying “Slow down!” or “put down the screen!” isn’t going to fix all our problems. Finding time to read at all can be tough. Plus, books exist in the world in which they’re created. It’s fine to consume things in the way that makes sense for you—read an e-book if you must, but don’t forget to take a small adventure to a local bookstore, just because.

Reading is about empathy, and creating a space for stories to extend themselves is a bit of magic in and of itself that makes the world shine differently. And what is a book’s purpose if not make the world shine differently?

Care to share some of your favorite bookstore memories?

Tell us about your most interesting bookstore discoveries in the comments below!

Written by Carliann Rittman

Currently at NYU, probably feverishly reading messy memoirs about musicians.