Few good things have come out of the coronavirus pandemic, but one small, perhaps unnoticed, benefit has been the growth of independent bookstores.
More than 300 independent bookstores have opened across the country since the public health crisis began in 2020. That’s according to Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, the trade organization for independent booksellers.
One reason for the increase is businesses closing during the pandemic, leaving behind empty storefronts and good rental deals, Hill said in an email. Retailers have also started experimenting with new ways to sell products such as pop-up stores and mobile stores.
“People discovered these formats as a way to get into the book industry,” Hill said, adding that a shift in values is another reason more people are supporting independent bookstores and opening themselves. some stores.
“The loss of lives and livelihoods that so many have suffered during the pandemic has inspired new perspectives for people, inspiring them to finally pursue their dream of work that aligns with their values or that they believe is meaningful. for their community,” she said. “During the pandemic, we have also seen a renaissance in reading…and a renewed commitment to buying local…both of which have increased demand for independent bookstores.”
More independent bookstores started springing up in Hawaii even before the pandemic, including one in my neighborhood, Da Shop in Kaimuki.
When Da Shop launched in 2018, co-owner David DeLuca said he was encouraged to watch other bookstores open on Oahu around the same time: Bas Bookshop in Chinatown and the nonprofit Friends of the Library, which has opened its own second-hand bookstore in Neighborhood Center.
DeLuca said today’s 20-50 demographic favors more personalized retail experiences in almost everything they buy, from artisanal lattes to yoga apparel.
“The book industry, and in particular the independents, responds strongly to this and really provides communities with voices, stories and books that match and meet these needs. It’s a more curated experience and, more importantly, it’s human-to-human contact,” he said.
On Amazon.com you can get cheaper books, but you have to know what you are looking for. There are no human beings to guide you.
“We are in tune with the wishes of our customers. Large corporate bookstores only carry books that appeal to many different types of people in a wide variety of locations, but we work hard to find books that are of particular interest to our local audience,” said Pat Banning, owner of BookEnds, an independent bookstore in Kailua. .
Another great advantage of the Indies is that they offer their customers the joy of discovery.
During a recent foray into BookEnds, I ended up buying a book I had never heard of: “A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions”. The book sounds esoteric, but author Thom van Dooren uses skillful writing and photos of Hawaiian land snails – the most endangered species on the planet – to explain why we should care about their eventual extinction and survival. . Without the chance to hold this book on snails and flip through its pages, I doubt I would have bought it, let alone known.
I also walked out of BookEnds with a used copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets which I found sitting in a pile near the cash register and bought for $5, enticed by its beautiful illustrations by Mary Jane Gorton. I also found a used copy of Graham Greene’s classic 1955 Vietnamese novel “The Quiet American”.
BookEnds, like many other independent stores, offers new and used books. Owner Banning says selling used books brings her good business and is an inexpensive way to build up a larger section of books for customers.
“You never know what you’ll find here. It’s like a treasure hunt. Where else can you find a book on bullfighting or a book on making poison darts? ” she laughs.
The resurgence of brick-and-mortar bookstores is happening on other islands, including the island of Hawaii, which now has six independent bookstores.
Brenda McConnell, who owns Kona Stories with business partner Joy Vogelgesang, isn’t sure why so many independent bookstores have sprung up on the island of Hawaii. She speculates that it may be because the island’s population centers are far apart. “If you live in Hilo, you’re not going to drive to Kona to buy a book. It is too far. You need your own store,” she said.
The increased support for independents in Hawaii is happening at the same time that large corporate booksellers are disappearing from the market. Barnes and Noble is the only remaining major bookseller in Hawaii with stores in Ala Moana Center and Kahului, Maui.
Costco announced in September that it would no longer sell books at its seven Hawaii locations. Borders – which once had six stores in Hawaii – disappeared after the company went bankrupt in 2011. Waldenbooks, which had 14 stores here, also disappeared.
“Independent bookstores are more important than ever. If there’s a positive side to Costco ending book sales, it means freelancers can take over some of that business,” said Bennett Hymer, owner of Mutual Publishing, a Kaimuki business specializing in books. works by local authors.
There isn’t a single independent bookstore on Maui.
Ed Justus owns the only full-service bookstore on Kauai: Talk Story in Hanapepe. Justus said it’s not just older readers who support his store. He’s always been amazed to find that the very young are the most excited and enthusiastic customers — 14- to 20-year-olds.
“They grew up with electronic media and are fascinated by physical media,” he said. “They come into the store and spend hours browsing through hard copies of books and vinyl record albums. They like to hold books and feel the smell of print and the joy of turning the pages.
“On the internet, you go straight to what you want to read, but exploring physical books and discs in a bookstore is a whole different experience. You never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Justus has been in business for 18 years, selling 25,000 titles in what was once the old Yoshiura Store, a general merchandise store. He believes the key to his success is keeping a diverse and unusual inventory of new and used books.
“I try to find out what customers want to read to keep it fun for them,” he said. “We’re all geeks about something.”
I hope the owners of independent bookstores are right when they say they’re here to stay, even when the current inflationary economy’s soaring prices might cause some of their customers to turn to less e-books instead. expensive ones or start ordering physical books only from Amazon.
“Independent stores provide a friendly environment, a place where children come to enjoy books. We are able to help readers locate hard-to-find books. And offer other services such as giving tourists recommendations on where to eat,” said McConnell of the Kona Stories bookstore.
Christine Reed, owner of Basically Books in Hilo, echoed that sentiment: “Books have always been treasures. They are precious. There will always be bookstores where you can hold books and look inside. And someone to help you when you ask, “I’m looking for the perfect gift for a 3-year-old.”
Interestingly, today’s indies that seem so trendy and modern are actually the old-fashioned way we bought books before Amazon’s onslaught. We have come full circle.