Smaller is Bigger: Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day

It’s the last Saturday in April. And if you’re a lover of books, supporting local businesses, and building community, that means one thing.

It’s Independent Book Store Day.

A day for celebrating the incredible gift of storytelling at indie bookstores that keep the money your spending close to home. A chance to meet and talk with authors familiar and new while discovering books printed especially for the day. And, best of all in my opinion, an excuse to buy more books!

Bookstores have always been a destination spot for me. Whether it’s just a day out, a vacation in a new spot, or a place to stop and stretch while on the road, more often than not, I find myself in bookstores.

When I was a kid, the whole point of going to the University Mall in South Burlington, or the Burlington Square Mall in downtown Burlington was to go to WaldenBooks. At the time, those were the only bookstores I knew of, and I figured that was the be all and end all. And it was fine. There were plenty of Choose Your Own Adventure, Hardy Boys Casefiles, and Bloom County and Calvin & Hobbes collections to keep me happy.

Once I got a car and started exploring on my own, I discovered a couple of independent bookstores. Back then, I didn’t understand the difference between a chain like WaldenBooks and locally owned stores like Bear Pond Books in Stowe and Chasmen & Bem in Burlington. The latter stores definitely looked and felt different, more intimate and cozy. And there were books I’d never seen at the mall before. I started to visit and shop at those stores regularly.

Then I went to the movies on Saturday, Nov. 14, 1992, and everything changed.

It was the opening weekend for Francis Ford Coppala’s Dracula, and a buddy and I made the hour-long trip from Johnson State College to South Burlington early so we could wander around downtown Burlington for a while. Getting off Interstate 89, we saw a new store where the old Gaynes department store used to be. A place we’d never heard of before. Barnes & Noble had come to Vermont.

We were blown away. It seemed like every book in the world was there, and we spent so much time looking around that we ended up going to a later showing of Dracula. For the next few years, Barnes & Noble was where my book buying happened. And once again, aside from the aesthetics of the store and the variety of titles, I saw little difference between the mega-retailer and the other places where I bought books. Borders came along a few years later, and I split my book purchases between those two places, as well as the next phase in my book purchasing evolution.

Amazon.

Everything changed again when I got internet and discovered the online retailer. Pretty much literally every book in the world, at my fingertips. Unbelievable. I loved it. Though the specialness of the website got diluted as it went from being a bookstore to also selling everything else in the world, up to and including coffins. But still … so many books!

A couple of things happened, though. 

First, I got bored. If there wasn’t a specific book I wanted to buy, I’d visit Amazon and just sort of fart around and look at stuff. Or I’d go to the big stores and do the same thing. Maybe if something was on sale, I’d buy it. My book-buying dropped off, and I saved my money for used books.

The other thing that happened was that I got woke, as the kids say. (Do they still say that?) I learned about the differences between all the different bookstores I’d frequented throughout my life and what it all meant for the communities where the stores existed. I discovered that Barnes & Noble was basically the death knell for Chasmen & Bem. And I decided to change my book-buying habits.

I discovered or rediscovered independent bookstores around Vermont and the surrounding region. And I surprised myself with my reaction to them.

These smaller stores didn’t have every single book ever, and I was relieved. What’s more, the books these stores had on their shelves and set up with special displays didn’t just come from the bestseller lists like they did at WaldenBooks. The stock seemed to be curated, with lots of thought going into what was being made available.

These independent bookstores weren’t just a place to buy books. They were a place to experience books. It was a wonderful revelation.

Now I’m not going to try and present myself as someone I’m not. I still use the big places from time to time, but much less than I used to. That’s the reality of my situation. But when I do, I’m more thoughtful about why I’m doing it, and if possible, I talk myself out of doing it.

Why am I buying this book from this place right now? 

Can it wait so I can get it from an indie store? 

If I’m buying it online, can I buy it online from an indie store? 

So I’ve gone full circle with my book buying, and I’m glad I did. 

Now, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite independent bookstores. If you’re nearby, I urge you to check them out. If you’re far away, find your own independent bookstores and support them.

Phoenix Books in Essex, Burlington, Chester, and Rutland, VT
The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, VT
Brome Lake Books in Knowlton, QC
Little Village Toy & Book Shop in Littleton, NH
Ebenezer Books in Johnson, VT
Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT
Crow Bookshop in Burlington, VT
Bear Pond Books in Montpelier and Stowe, VT
Northshire Books in Manchester Center, VT
White Birch Books in North Conway, NH
The Eloquent Page in St. Albans, VT
Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester, VT
The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, VT
Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre, VT

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