We all have been guilty of taking independent bookstores for granted at some point in time. They are always there when you need a last minute present or a new read, but indie bookstores do so much more than just sell books. Indie bookstores are like a secret backbone of the community!
Early in 2017 in preparation for my debut children’s book If Sharks Disappeared, I stopped into a little children’s bookstore in Lafayette, California by the name of Bel and Bunna’s Books. The first I heard of it was when the family I babysat for suggested I check out the new children’s bookstore close by. I timidly told the only employee in the shop (who turned out to be the owner), Bel, that I was a local Macmillan author and was wondering if I could have a book launch at her store. Her warmth and generosity were immediate and we became fast friends. I started stopping in every week, which turned into several times a week. Sometimes I would sit in the store for hours talking to Bel and researching children’s books. Eventually, after my first successful book launch, I asked her if I could work at Bel and Bunna’s when she needed the help, more out of a desire to spend time there than from a need for income.
Though I only worked at Bel and Bunna’s a very short time before moving to Colorado, my time in Bel’s shop was some of the best of my whole life. Bel helped me find the NCIBA, where I presented my debut book to all the local booksellers at a chapter meeting at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley, CA. There I ended up meeting and making friends with other booksellers. She taught me the ropes of daily bookstore maintenance from cleaning the windows to facing the shelves (tiding the bookshelves) to inputting the fresh orders of boxes that have arrived. For the first time in my life, my only other retail experience having been a few very stressful months working at J.Crew in college, I absolutely LOVED working in a store. There is so much to love about indie bookstores, but to me, the greatest thing about working at Bel and Bunna’s was getting to share that love of books. I was responsible for handing children books that I knew would change their lives. I was able to pass on my love of books to kids who were just learning their love of books. That experience is so powerful and it is so much more than I could have imagined.
Bel works seven days a week full time in her bookshop. While it is often rare to find a bookstore that is a mostly solo operation, bookstore owners and employees are hardworking and often undercelebrated people. I used to think that bookstore employees just sold books, but working in a bookstore is so much more than that. Books can offer so much to their readers by transporting them to new worlds, changing lives, changing perspectives, and inspiring! Booksellers know the power of books and the power of a well-loved book that can do all of that.
Some things booksellers do:
+ Sell books
+ Buy books
+ Talk about books
+ Keep their bookshop tidy and in working order
+ Attend national and local booksellers meetings
+ Meet with publishing house reps
+ Throw and host in-store events (storytimes, author, illustrator, craft, coding, book groups, writing groups, and more)
+ Organize and sell books for author events at schools and community spaces
+ Read tons and tons of books
+ Nominate books for awards, write reviews about books, sit on book committees, and generally celebrate books in every single way.
+ Keep literacy alive in their community through educational outreach and reading programs
+ Host book festivals, sponsor book festivals, generally be involved with conferences and festivals
+ “Don’t have a life because we are always in the shop” (Bel told me to add this one when I asked her if she had anything to add to my list)
Bookstores are important to communities and help them thrive. The things they do for their communities and literacy are often not advertised and not widely known. But I think we all should celebrate indie bookstores. When you want to buy a book, shop locally! A bookstore and all of the things bookstores support (authors, illustrators, employees, school kids, other local businesses) will all thank you!
Thank you, Booksellers, for all that you do to drive literacy, share book love, and expand brains across the world!