Independent Booksellers: Unique, Local Benefits

Interior bookshelves at City Light Bookstore in San Francisco

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

An independent bookstore (also known as an indie bookseller or independent bookseller) is a bookstore that is not controlled by a larger bookseller chain (such as Barnes and Noble or Books A Million).

Quality independent booksellers are often fixtures in the communities that they serve, and bring many benefits to those communities, as well as to authors, and readers. 

Indie Bookseller Benefits

Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and one of the founders of the Miami Book Fair International says, "Small, independent businesses are what gives a city its uniqueness and a community with healthy small business is a community that is richer than most. And independent booksellers have always played an activist role when it comes to providing vital cultural and social services to the community it serves. It’s not easy these days, but we’re seeing a renaissance in small, indie stores opening around the country as consumers want more things personal and sustainable."

Here's a roll-up of how independent booksellers benefit the authors, the local economy, readers and beyond:

Indie Bookseller Benefits for Authors

Well-regarded authors (like Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman) have spearheaded and maintained the call for support of independent booksellers with programs such as Indies First on Small Business Saturday. This often due to the great early experiences (whether as a reader or a writer) and support that indie stores have given them.

New and even self-published authors often get their start at supportive local independent booksellers. For example, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi hosted an unknown John Grisham's first book signing event. (If you are a new or self-published author, read these tips on how to best work with a local independent bookstore.)

Independent Bookstores Boost the Local Economy 

More specifically, according to a recent newsletter from Roxanne Coady of R. J. Julia, an independent bookstore in Madison, CT, "For every $100 you spend in a locally owned store, $73 stays in the local economy, whereas $100 spent in national chains returns $43 to the local economy. Unsurprisingly $100 spent online to an out-of-state retailer returns zero dollars to our communities."

Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for the local community and it means that tax monies are reinvested within communities.

Shopping at an Indie Booksellers is Kinder On the Environment

Shopping locally instead of online means less packaging and less waste. And where there is no shipping to the consumer, there is also less trucking or other transportation, further reducing the carbon footprint of the transaction. And though chain stores are local, they often warehouse centrally, which does mean a less direct transaction involving shipping.

Shopping at Independent Bookstores Creates A Closer Community

According to the American Booksellers Association, local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains. From sponsoring literacy programs to boosting local team sports, it's likely the non-profits that benefit from your indie booksellers dollars, are centered in your own community, so the money stays there.

Bricks and mortar booksellers like indie also help connect authors with readers in person and vice versa — something that online retailers can't do. 

How to Open An Independent Bookstore

And if you're an independent-minded book lover who thinks about being a bookseller, learn more about:

Each Indie Bookstore Is Unique

Just like their customers, every indie has its own personality - as diverse and quirky as their owners and the customers they serve.

Some Examples of Unique and Varied Independent Booksellers Around the U.S.

Bienville Books—Mobile, AL

Bienville Books has ranked among the top attractions in Mobile, Alabama on travel sites. Described by its patrons as "a treasure," "welcoming," "wonderful," "eclectic," and "a find," Bienville Books has found many fans among avid readers, students, book collectors, locals, and tourists. More than one visiting Mobile souvenir hunter has been quoted as greatly admiring the "I read dead people" tee shirts that are hanging in the window.

Books & Books—Southern Florida

Owner Mitchell Kaplan opted out of a potential law career to open the first Books & Books store in Coral Gables, Florida in 1982. Now, for the South Florida literary community, Books & Books is "your independent, locally-owned bookstore... a community of writers and readers, hosting 60 author events a month and featuring a carefully curated selection."

City Lights Bookstore—San Francisco, CA

City Lights Bookstore is an independent bookstore located in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Founded in 1953 as an "all paperback bookstore" by Peter D. Martin and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights retains a "legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking" from its early association with Beat poets.

Island Bound Bookstore—Block Island, RI

Bookstores in beach towns and ski areas and other season-dependent vacation hotspots face unique bookselling challenges. Along with this profile of Island Bound Bookstore, an award-winning independent bookseller on Block Island, Rhode Island, its owner Cindy Lasser shares some of her insights into running a store that is subject to the ebb and flow of seasonal traffic.

Octavia Books—New Orleans, LA

Book publishing professionals consider Octavia Books a must-stop on a Southern literary tour or a book lovers tour of New Orleans. Among its unique attributes, the store sponsors the National Public Radio show, The Reading Life, hosted by author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans, Susan Larson.

R. J. Julia Independent Booksellers—Madison, CT

As one of the largest independent booksellers in the Northeast, the mission R. J. Julia is “to be a place where words matter, where writer meets reader, where the ambiance and selection and merchandising of books creates an atmosphere that is welcoming and presents the opportunity for discovery.”

The Mysterious Bookshop—New York, NY

"One of the oldest mystery specialist bookstores in America," the Mysterious Bookshop is currently located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. The store stocks new mystery hardcovers, paperbacks and periodicals, as well as signed modern first editions, rare/collectible hardcovers and "Sherlockiana," works about that most famous sleuth of all.

Square Books—Oxford, MS

Square Books, named the 2013 Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly, is a hub of Southern literary culture and is a must-visit for bibliophiles, authors, and lovers of the Southern history and literature. There are three locations around the Oxford, Mississippi town square.

Turnrow Book Co.—Greenwood, MS

Turnrow Book Co. is an independent bookseller located in Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta, between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. A Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance (SIBA) member Turnrow serves an area known as the birthplace of the Blues, the home of the Viking Range Company, and the location for the filming of , and is an important part of the cultural landscape.