Independent Bookstore Day returns April 29 for a day of reader solidarity, or, in the words of one local participant, Skylight Books, “Today we all bleed indie!”
Launched in California in 2014, Independent Bookstore Day has since gone national — this year’s list of participants boasts 458 bookstores in 48 states, including 15 in the Los Angeles area. Loyal customers of Book Soup, Vroman’s, Diesel and others can expect special events, limited-edition books and on-theme merchandise, as well as the general camaraderie of passionate booksellers and the readers who love them.
“It’s also a way to reach people,” said Samantha Schoech, founder and director of Independent Bookstore Day. “There are still lots and lots of people, when you even mention a bookstore, they kind of scoff and say, ‘Oh, those still exist?’ And the truth is, yes, they still exist, and many of them are really thriving. They’re really integral parts of their towns’ communities.”
That sense of community is something all together grander than the sum of its parts: Consider the way readers take pride in their local independent bookstore, like sports fans rooting for their home team. They’re a place of solace, of joy and, ultimately, connection. “People go on dates in bookstores,” Schoech said. “People don’t go on dates to shoe stores.”
Amazon sells far more books than local indies, which account for only 10% of sales. But the staff at independent bookstores, Schoech said, are “the people that readers go to when they need suggestions. Online bookstores can [make suggestions] via an algorithm, but they’re not able to discuss books in any meaningful way. Publishers know that. They know that if you want to reach passionate readers, independent bookstores are the way to go.”
They also nurture the “whole literary ecosystem of authors and publishers and readers,” she added.
As is its indie wont, each participating bookstore will throw its own, unique celebration, while shops nationwide will carry a selection of exclusive books and literary items, such as an original print by the Bloggess Jenny Lawson, a literary map of the United States, literary condoms and a book of cocktail recipes from a variety of authors — with contributions from L.A.’s own J. Ryan Stradal, Edan Lepucki and Viet Thanh Nguyen. Just like on Record Store Day (April 22) and Free Comic Book Day (May 6) — the two events Independent Bookstore Day is modeled on — specialty items will be available only to those who buy them in person at the brick-and-mortar establishments. “You can’t order it over the phone or online,” says Schoech, “you have to show up at the indie bookstore… it really does connect customers to their bookstores in a more intimate way.”
So, what else is on the docket at your local haunt? Chevalier’s will host an open house with a rotating roster of authors present, including Judith Freeman and National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.
Independent Bookstore Day is in its fourth year, and Schoech said this year’s event feels different.
“I think now, in the current climate, a lot of bookstores all over the country are committed to becoming almost sanctuaries, you know?” she added. “Places where all information and all voices are respected and provided. Safe spaces where nobody is paying attention to what you’re reading… or using your reading habits to sell you stuff. I think now, more than ever, there’s a feeling that books offer us a deeper, more empathetic view of the world, from contemporary political memoirs to poetry to coloring books — all of it — and I think bookstores are really stepping up.”