Jason Diamond, for Flavorwire, sees indie bookstores getting things right in five distinctive ways. The full article, linked to below, has a longish, intro, but here are his main five points…
1. Like snowflakes, no two indie bookstores are alike
I’ve been to dozens of bookstores all over the country, and the one thing that strikes me is that every single one of them has it own, individual feel. There’s the cozy used bookshop in Boston with a cat that sits on the leather couch, and there are cathedrals to books like The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. While I’ve seen countless coffee shops trying to use Starbucks as their template — only to close up immediately because customers don’t want another corporate-feeling place to sip their lattes — there is an undeniable feeling that, in this world where so much is prepackaged for us, indie bookstores just feel real and right.
2. The secret ingredient is love
The explanation for #2 is simple: people don’t open bookstores because they think they’re going to strike it rich slinging paperbacks; they do it because they genuinely love it. There’s always the chance to expand (like one of Kachka and Stein’s examples, McNally Jackson, is planning to do this year by opening a second location in Brooklyn), but of all the store owners I’ve met, I’ve never walked away with the impression that they’re looking become millionaires. It sounds simple because it is, but so many people strike out on their own with the intention of striking it rich that they lose sight of what’s important.
3. The focus on community
Events, working with local businesses, and getting people from outside the store involved in different ways all serve to strengthen the relationship between a bookstore and the community it serves. In Brooklyn especially, I’ve seen WORD in Greenpoint (now with a second location in New Jersey) work with all the other stores around their neighborhood. Community in Park Slope does a big reading series with the local synagogue that has brought readers like Donna Tartt and Malcolm Gladwell into a borough they used to ignore. It all shows that indie bookstore owners don’t open up shop with the hope of becoming the biggest bookstore in the country: they see themselves as local businesses that engage and care about the community. If you care about where you live, the people who live around you will care back.
4. Local bookstores understand social media
Are you one of the 15,000+ people who follow Washington DC’s Politics & Prose on Twitter? Did you realize that 18,000+ follow Book People in Austin, Texas? Or maybe you’re one of the 90,000+ who Powell’s in Portland. Whatever the case, despite all the money big brands (like this week’s punchline, U.S. Airways) throw at social media “gurus,” indie bookstores understand Twitter (and Facebook, and Tumblr) better than almost any business.
5. Indie booksellers empower their employees
I’m not saying they offer a career path with fringe benefits and a retirement program, but I’ve known the people behind the registers at some stores for years. In a place like New York City, where new faces come in and out of your life every hour, that says something. It says that the owners push their employees to take pride in their identity as booksellers. It sometimes feels a little like the corny Whole Foods “team member” jargon, but it actually works. People who work in bookstores care a great deal about what they’re doing.