Iowa Bookstores Offer Taste of Local Flavor

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Travelers like to sample the local cuisine, enjoy the regional geography ... why not visit the local independent bookstore? That's what people at the Iowa Tourism Office thought, so the Iowa tourism website now features a list of the independent bookstores all around the state.

The Tourism Office, managed by Nancy Landess, has prefaced the list with a paean to the independents:

"Bookmark a Bookstore! -- Known for engaging and intimate settings and run by passionate, knowledgeable staff, independent bookstores offer an alternative to chain bookstores or online booksellers by giving travelers a local flavor of the community.... Take this month to browse a sample of the literary gems Iowa has to offer. No matter which region of state you're visiting, you'll find a bibliophile's banquet!"

According to a study reported in the Des Moines Register, tourism is a growing industry in Iowa; in 2004, travel expenditures in the state reached an all-time high of $5 billion. Iowa bookstores, such as Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Main Street Books in Pella, or Muscatine Books in Muscatine, could be getting a share of that. The Register recently ran an article about the website listing, under the headline Iowa Entices Book Lovers.

The concept of bookstores as a travel destination was given a name and a manual by booklover Larry Portzline. The term "bookstore tourism," and the book, Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide To Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips For Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies (Bookshop Junkie Press), are his. He implemented what may be the first bookstore tours, primarily in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Landess' office heard about the book and contacted Portzline for advice and counsel.

Portzline told BTW that other states could follow Iowa's lead and promote independent bookstores through their travel bureaus. He sees opportunities for tie-ins with family travel and literary travel. "In my home in Harrisburg [Pennsylvania], we're near towns like Gettysburg with rich history and many possibilities for bookstore stops with literary offerings. There are so many great bookstore towns. We're looking into promotions with bus companies."

Once Landess saw Portzline's book and spoke with him, she was inspired to put the list of bookstores together and feature it on the Iowa Tourism website. It will be replaced in a month or so with a new feature, but Landess hopes people will print the list and keep it around for future reference.

"We have received a number of calls about the stores," Landess told BTW. "When planning a trip, and visiting one of the stores, it's a nice time to stay at a bed and breakfast. The local bookstores offer ways to learn about the community you're visiting and feel the local flavor." --Nomi Schwartz