I’d like to put in a plug for supporting indie bookstores right now, even if it takes a little extra effort. I’m seeing a lot of people trying to get through this looooong February (what’s that even about?) by recommitting to reading. I mean hey, even the most committed bingers among us are a little Netflix-ed out at this point. And yes, it’s easy to just hop onto Amazon and order some books’ but consider the fact that while the pandemic has squeezed so many small businesses, indie bookstores in particular are struggling. That’s because they rely heavily on foot traffic and tourism — both of which are in short supply these days.
So I’ve put together 6 cool ways you can support indie bookstores right now, beyond just buying your books from them.
Independent bookstores discover and promote new and diverse authors in a way an algorithm never will. They are staffed by people who truly love books, not marketing. And they serve as important gathering centers for readings, community events, and those essential activities for kids that save us when we’ve got toddlers and we’re wondering what the heck to do with them.
(At least once we can safely have all those in-person events again.)
If you’re lucky enough to have a special independent bookstore in your community — or even one in another community whose mission you love –I hope you’ll join me in supporting them until we can browse those shelves again.
Editors Note: We know that people have different budgets and limitations, and so this site has always shared Amazon links on our book articles, with a note to also look for books at your local library or independent bookstore. In 2020, we doubled down on our support for independent bookstores by opening a Bookshop.org storefront that’s powered by Indiebound. All our book recommendations, like the ALA winners of 2021 now include links to both Indiebound and Amazon to give you a choice.
Clever ways to support indie bookshops. Besides just buying books there.
1. Sign up for a book box subscription
One of the things I love best about shopping at independent book stores are discovering the staff picks. While unfortunately I can’t peruse the handwritten notes in-person these days, I’m loving that so many indie book stores offer subscription boxes with curated picks.
The Strand in NYC offers subscription boxes by genre, like this YA box, which would be an awesome gift for a teen in your life who could use a pick-me-up. Or check out their fiction, sci-fi, and political non-fiction, which also look rad. Maybe even as a gift for yourself!
Also be sure to look at our roundup of 8 of the best book subscription boxes for kids and teens, most of which support independent businesses, including some curated by bookstore owners.
2. Buy indie bookstore swag
If you’ve already got too much on your to-read shelf (is that even possible?), consider some cool bookstore swag instead. Represent your favorite bookstore with cool merch like a t-shirt, cap, mug, hoodie or logo beanie (shown at very top) from Powell’s in Portland.
Indie bookstores often sell cool little gifts besides books, so keep them in mind for your next gift-giving occasion. I happen to love this bookshelf face mask from my hometown bookstore, Parnassus. Perfect to wear over your surgical mask or KN95.
3. Score a signed first edition
I think signed first editions make wonderful gifts.There’s so much power in a real hand signature from an author, particularly in the all-virtual Zoom Twilight Zone of 2020-21. Indie bookstores like Books of Wonder, a parent favorite in NYC, offer an entire online section of signed old/rare books from both illustrators and authors like Madeline L’Engle, Lemony Snicket…even a signed copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, if you want to shell out $6,000!
A great score: We found a signed copy of the March Book III graphic novel by authors Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Wow.
Another option: Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi lets you subscribe to their signed first edition club, so you can receive a new title of their choosing each month. (You also happen to get two refusals a year in case their pick doesn’t catch your fancy.)
4. Subscribe to Libro.fm
All my friends and family have heard me prattle on about how great Libro.fm is as an alternative to Audible. It offers the same excellent audiobook selection through a subscription model, but you get to choose an independent bookstore to support with your purchase.
I’ve been using Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, to help settle down before bed each night instead of doom scrolling — Michelle reads it herself, making it as comforting as it is inspiring.
5. Make a tribute donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation
If you want to put some money directly to booksellers in need, consider a donation to BINC, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which helps support independent booksellers who are struggling with unexpected expenses. During the COVID-19 crisis, this org is helping with pandemic-related medical bills, loss of income, eviction prevention, and more. They’ve also helped booksellers who’ve had to flee their homes during the California wildfires, so they really are a terrific organization.
You can read more about all the ways BICF has assisted booksellers on their blog.
6. Give a gift card to an indie bookstore. You know, for buying actual books.
We all know that tweens and teens go nuts for gift cards these days, and hey, so do we all. Check with your local indie bookstore — or one close to your lucky gift recipient — and see if they offer gift cards. I bet they do. It even makes a fantastic baby gift for a new parent!
Besides, it’s kind of nice to know that your favorite niece, nephew, grandkid, or your own child is likely to buy actual books with it, instead of some knock-off electronics from China.
(Not judging, just saying books make great gifts!)