Booksellers Mark Third Independent Bookstore Day With Festive Celebrations
More than 400 bookstores nationwide celebrated Independent Bookstore Day (IBD) on Saturday, April 29, with events and festivities ranging from author appearances and special discounts to literary trivia and temporary tattoos.
Special Independent Bookstore Day merchandise included a signed short story by Michael Chabon, literary condoms and tea towels, an Elephant & Piggie onesie, a signed drawing from blogger Jenny Lawson, a limited-edition print featuring artwork from Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books (Candlewick), and more.
In honor of Independent Bookstore Day, media outlets across the U.S. wrote about the happenings at their local bookstores, and the Huffington Post asked staffers in its newsroom to share their favorite indie bookstores for “50 of the Best Indie Bookstores in America.”
In Brooklyn, New York, Independent Bookstore Day Ambassador Emma Straub celebrated the day by opening Books Are Magic, a new independent bookstore in the borough’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. Straub also shared a video of well-known authors — among them, Jacqueline Woodson, Neil Gaiman, Daniel Handler, and Lisa Brown — saying, “Books are magic.”
Indie bookstores are special, Straub told LitHub in an interview ahead of Independent Bookstore Day, because they’re all unique. “They are each a total kingdom. That’s why they’re thriving — they’re living, breathing creatures. You wouldn’t swap your cat for a robot, even though the cat sometimes eats your hair and then barfs on the rug. It’s the same thing. I would rather have an eccentric, fallible thing with a soul. Wouldn’t you?”
Independent Bookstore Day at The Story Shop, which opened in Monroe, Georgia, in October 2016, featured face painting and sidewalk chalk, a meet-the-author story time with local writer Rosalind Bunn, and a performance by a magician.
“We also had cookies from our local bakery, a make-your-own Golden Book activity, and, of course, we were selling Independent Bookstore Day merchandise,” said Melissa Music, owner of the primarily children’s bookstore.
The day’s festivities kicked off with a grand opening celebration for The Story Shop’s new Harry Potter-themed middle-readers room, which features books for early/beginning readers, middle reader chapter books, early young adult books, and resources for parents.
“When we first opened, we had some books for children through 10 to 12 years old, but they were all mixed in with our picture books. The area just looked really young, so we moved our office to the back to make room for a brand-new middle-readers room,” said Music.
For Story Shop’s very first Independent Bookstore Day, sales were up about $500 compared to its usual Saturday sales and were right behind those for the store’s first Small Business Saturday, Music said.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf declared April 29 Independent Bookstore Day across the state, thanks to a request from Elliott batTzedek of Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia. After batTzedek asked for an official proclamation via a form on the governor’s website, Gov. Wolf responded with a letter, noting, “I am confident Independent Bookstore Day will continue to highlight the importance of small-business owners and encourage our communities to have a passion for lifelong learning.”
Independent Bookstore Day coincided with Wissahickon Weekend, a celebration of the historic park in Big Blue Marble’s neighborhood. In honor of both events, Big Blue Marble held a story time and nature walk with author Anna Forrester (Bat Count: A Citizen Scientist Story, Arbordale Publishing), illustrator Kate Garchinsky (The Secret Life of the Red Fox, Boyds Mills Press), and author/illustrator Doug Wechsler (The Hidden Life of a Toad, Charlesbridge). The store also hosted a discussion on the role of parks in city life, featuring a viewing of the documentary 10 Parks That Changed America and a talk with Dr. Elizabeth Milroy, author of The Grid and the River: Philadelphia’s Green Places, 1682–1876 (Penn State University Press).
In addition, Big Blue Marble and 14 other bookstores in Southeast Pennsylvania invited customers to pick up a regional bookstore map and earn stamps at each store for the chance to win prizes, such as an autographed book or lunch with an author. The promotion, said batTzedek, had a big impact on sales.
“We had people stopping in all day because they’d heard about the event on NPR,” she said. “I wasn’t there all day, but I think we had at least 15 people who came in because they were going store-to-store. Another store in the neighborhood, The Spiral Bookcase, has a resident cat whose birthday was being celebrated, so we were also sending people to our neighborhood pet store because they wanted to take a present to Amelia the cat.”
This was the biggest Independent Bookstore Day celebration that Big Blue Marble has held, said batTzedek. “This year was a sea change — with everyone participating and talking with customers, word had really spread. I know next year will be a big deal, now that we have the group established and time to plan,” she said.
Saturday was a fun day at Readers’ Books in Sonoma, California, said buyer Jude Sales.
“It started out slow because we had the big Climate March so everyone was there at first, but as soon as that was over we were very busy,” Sales said. “Sales for the day were up slightly. I can’t give a solid number, but every year has been up a little more.”
The day’s festivities included a drawing to win Lonely Planet’s Wild World that involved staff members taking photos of customers holding up one book they would take on a vacation, which were then posted to the store’s Facebook page. The store also ran a choose-your-own discount promotion that invited customers to pick a discount amount from a grab bag. To highlight the books If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Mouse a Brownie, customers were treated to cookies, brownies, and lemonade.
“It was just all around a good party. A lot of regulars came in, so that was fun. We’ve been doing it since it was called California Bookstore Day [in 2014], and it has been growing slightly every year. Sales were certainly double a normal Saturday, which is no small potatoes,” said Sales.
“We usually don’t sell a lot of the official Independent Bookstore Day merchandise,” Sales added, “so we end up having a lot of stuff left over, but people come in and pick it up all year round.”
Red Rock Books, located in Ridgecrest, California, celebrated Independent Bookstore Day with hourly book bingo games, duct tape crafts, and a tattoo parlor for temporary literary tattoos, as well as raffles, prizes, and cupcakes, said owner Ann Rizzardini.
“It was great,” she said. “Our sales were double what we did last year on Independent Bookstore Day. People were having a good time and were excited and enthusiastic.”
The hit at Red Rock Books was its giveaway of “Kindred Spirits,” the short story by award-winning author Rainbow Rowell created for Independent Bookstore Day. One customer drove two hours to pick up the book from Red Rock, said Rizzardini.
The third Independent Bookstore Day celebration at Annie Bloom’s Books, located in Portland, Oregon’s Multnomah Village Business District, led to a small bump in sales, according to bookseller Ruby Meyers.
“We were pretty busy, a bit busier than usual for a Saturday,” said Meyers, who helped organize the day’s festivities. “We got lucky with the weather, so there were lots of people out in the village.”
According to Meyers, some people were coming in specifically to buy IBD’s Jenny Lawson print, and one couple came just to purchase W.W. Norton’s special edition of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. In addition to selling official Independent Bookstore Day merchandise, Annie Bloom’s also hosted an in-store scavenger hunt and a raffle for the special hardcover edition of Rainbow Rowell’s short story.
“We also had a poster at the front window, where anybody who stopped in could add a book that they would recommend to people,” said Meyers.
At Gathering Volumes in Perrysburg, Ohio, Rainbow Rowell’s short story was also the thing everyone was waiting for, said owner Denise Phillips, but the Elephant & Piggie onesies were a hit as well, especially following the special Elephant & Piggie story time, for which the store opened an hour early.
About 20 authors visited the store for Independent Bookstore Day despite the cold and rainy weather, said Phillips, and food trucks stationed outside provided snacks and drinks. To compete with Perrysburg’s walleye festival on the other side of town, the store boosted its advertising to help bring in customers. The day ended with a game of Harry Potter trivia, in which participants competed for a gift basket of ARCs.
Gathering Volumes just opened last summer, so Independent Bookstore Day was the store’s best day ever, said Phillips, about 40 percent higher than the store’s grand opening. “I was amazed,” she said. “We were busy the whole day and we had lots of new people in the store. We had a great day.”
Becky Jackson, owner of Absolutely Fiction Books in Lufkin, Texas, said she had about three or four different people tell her they drove from Dallas, three hours away, just to visit an independent bookstore for Independent Bookstore Day.
“No one was doing Indie Bookstore Day in Dallas, so apparently we were the closest one,” said Jackson. “We had an extremely good day, probably our best day in sales.”
Throughout the day, bargain books at Absolutely Fiction were all half-price. In the morning, John Foxjohn, author of the 2013 true crime book Killer Nurse: The Harrowing True Story of One Woman’s Murder Spree in an East Texas Town (Berkley), did a signing, and another local author visited the store to sign books in the afternoon.
To cap off the store’s first Independent Bookstore Day, Absolutely Fiction, which opened in July 2016, held its third “Bookstore Date Night,” which Jackson purposely scheduled to coincide with the event. Couples and others were invited to hang out in the bookstore as part of their evening, Jackson said.
“People go out to eat, then they come here for dessert or an appetizer or a drink. We clear off the top of some of the tables so people can sit down,” said Jackson. “Then they can just walk around the store and look at books.”
For Ellen Plumb’s City Bookstore in Emporia, Kansas, Independent Bookstore Day was the store’s second-best day since opening in 2016, said owner Marcia Lawrence. “Even though we had a very cold and rainy day at least we did not have snow, and the store was full almost all day long,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence worked with Emporia State University’s art department to create a limited-edition “LetterCup,” a cup about the size of a sake cup that has letters carved into its surface; all 21 cups sold out. Kansan author George Frazier (The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Journeys Into Hidden Landscapes, University Press of Kansas) visited the store for a signing and reading, which was standing room only, said Lawrence, and customers also enjoyed some light refreshments.
Emporia was without a bookstore for more than a year, and many visitors commented on how happy they are to have a store again, said Lawrence. “Nothing is the same as being able to come into a bookstore and look at the books, get suggestions, and talk to people,” she said.
At Barrett Bookstore in Darien, Connecticut, store owner Sheila Daley celebrated Independent Bookstore Day by serving her customers coffee, cookies, and juice and hosting a special story time and a raffle.
“We also had a group puzzle for people to put together, and we had a Find Riley game — we have a store dog named Riley — which was kind of like Find Waldo, and kids got a bookstore buck to buy something.”
Daley also chose to sell certain Independent Bookstore Day merchandise, including the Elephant & Piggle onesies for babies, since, she said, Barrett Bookstore features a large children’s department.
“To be honest, the day was relatively quiet. But it was a gorgeous, hot day and I think people just wanted to be outside,” said Daley.
Bookstores that participated in Independent Bookstore Day are asked to fill out a survey by midnight on Friday, May 5, to let organizers know how the day went. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete; one survey per store may be submitted. Booksellers are also invited to send their best photos from Independent Bookstore Day to IBD@NCIBA.com. —Liz Button and Sydney Jarrard