Buy Local from Indie Booksellers

by Rachel Baker on February 27, 2008

Remember the movie “You’ve got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks about the small bookstore owner’s livelihood being threatened by the huge chain moving in across the street? I haven’t thought about that movie in years. This morning, though, I was reminded of not the love story, but the trauma caused to the indie book store owner.

I read an article from Publisher’s Weekly about the book stores in New Orleans and how they are finally seeing an increase in sales after the Hurricane Katrina disasters, and the new Borders that will be opening up in the Garden District – in the same vicinity of several small independent book stores.

This article reminded me of the importance of the indie booksellers – those I affectionately call the “old musty bookstores.” More often than not, they aren’t old musty book stores. They are kept up well, they feature great local authors as well as eclectic collections from every genre imaginable and the owners of these stores are friendly and personable. Unlike store clerks at the big chain book stores.

Indie book sellers are in a league of their own. Showing profit is a huge feat for them. They work hard, they rarely have “investors” and they don’t have the ability to hire a whole lot of staff.

It bothers me when a big chain moves in to an area where the little local book shops are actually making it – especially after a disaster like Hurricane Katrina. There are a whole lot of other places in New Orleans Borders could have opened up. They don’t have to go to the Garden District. Haven’t these people been through enough without big companies sucking the sales from them too?

I understand bringing in this chain will probably be a good play on the whole economic development aspect from the City’s standpoint, but I’m really curious about what the corporation will be giving back to the community.

I know, I know… I’m ranting about a whole lot of stuff that on the surface doesn’t concern me. I don’t live in New Orleans or even within 5 hours of the place.

But it does affect me and anyone who loves to buy books from the indie book seller. How long before we can’t find an indie book shop? How long before our only options will be to buy from corporate chains? How long before even the true old musty book shops are closed down because they just can’t compete with the budgets of the big chains? This concerns me in a big way.

I wonder how long before the only way we can buy from indie book sellers will be to order used books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and pay more in shipping than the book costs. I hope its decades down the road, if ever.

There’s hope though. The indie book shops in New Orlean’s are going to combat this problem in a very positive way:

“under the auspices of the New Orleans Gulf South Book Sellers Association, they hope to launch a “buy local” awareness campaign once the chain opens.

“We’re not going to try to smear Borders,” said DeVille’s Randall. “Instead, we’ll point out how great we indies are, and how much money we return back to the community, which is the most important thing of all.”

I, for one, am excited about this approach. I think they should take this approach one step further and invite all the book seller associations all around the country should join in and have their own “buy local” awareness campaigns.

As one who has a special love affair with small independent book stores, I wish you all the best of luck with this campaign!

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