Independent Bookstore Day, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on Saturday, has taken on immense importance for many booksellers across the country with 580 stores having participated, up from 507 last year.
"It was Christmas in April," said Holly Weinkauf, the owner of The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn. "Sales were up over 15% compared to last year. And last year's IBD was a big day for us. Sales were also double what a normal spring Saturday would be for us." Red Balloon welcomed Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, who is of Ojibwe descent, to the store to read a picture book with Native American themes and characters, Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, while Scout & Morgan in Cambridge, Minn.’s special in-store guest was Dusty, a horse who is the inspiration for a children’s book entitled Dusty’s Adventures by T.J. Akers.
McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, echoed the positive sentiment. "Sales are triple what they are for a normal Saturday this time of the year." She added that while sales are welcome, she gauges the success of the day on the number of new faces she sees come into the store. "One of our goals is to use the day to promote the store to new customers and then keep them coming back." The store hosted a well-attended "bookseller picks" session and also launched ReadHouston.com, an event listing site for the city's independent bookselling community. Valerie Kohler, owner of Blue Willow Books in Houston — where the author Ray Viator was reading for IBD -- said she was exciting to see more promotion of independent bookselling in general in the city. "This [Ray Viator] event [was] our seventh event of the week, so there is a lot going on year round that we want people to know about."
Numerous stores around the country took the opportunity to introduce themselves for the first time. St. Paul-based Babycake’s Book Stack mobile bookstore had a soft opening parked outside Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis and Storied Owl Bookshop, which is opening in mid-May in the neighborhood adjacent to Macalester College in St. Paul, opened its doors for the first time with a sneak peek, though the shelves were still pretty empty. The Next Chapter Bookstore in St. Paul, which until a week ago was known as Common Good Books, also used IBD as an opportunity to introduce and celebrate its new name under new ownership since Garrison Keillor sold the store and moved to Minneapolis.
Both of the bookseller moderators of PW's BXsellers Facebook page also took the opportunity to launch their businesses in their communities: Noelle Santos, owner of the Lit.Bar in the Bronx, opened her store for the first time, while BrocheAroe Fabian started a three-day pop-up in Beaver Dam, Wis., for her River Dog Book Company. "We offered a Spanish storytime, made sure to have a table of books for the Refugee Book Drive," said Fabian, "and we told everyone about IBD and the value of an indie bookstore, like personal recommendations, the ability to order online with us and in-person, the fact that we sell audiobooks and e-books as well as physical books, and shared IBD product -- the dish towels were the biggest hit this year!.
Up near the Canadian border, in Duluth, Minn. Bob Dobrow, the owner of Zenith Bookstore, wrote, “IBD was great at Zenith Bookstore. Lots of people ‘saved up’ their visits to the store this week to make sure they would be in on Saturday. We had a big table of freebies for purchases of $50 or more -- IBD tote bags, Libro.fm t-shirts, ARC's. The table was picked clean by the end of the day. Sales this year were 55% greater than IBD last year!”
Stephanie Ballien, director of marketing at audiobookseller Libro.fm, which offered numerous free titles on the day, reported reaching "millions of people through the offer of free audiobooks thanks our bookstore partners, authors, and network of influencers." She added, "These people now realize their ability to support local bookstores through audiobook purchases which is powerful education."
According to Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women and Children First in Chicago, “Considering it snowed—yes, snowed!—we were blown away by our intrepid customers who came out in droves to take the #ChiLoveBooks Challenge! More than 70 folks completed the challenge, visiting more than 10 indie bookstores in a single day!”
Several sales reps made the rounds to multiple bookstores around Minnesota's Twin Cities. John Mesjak of Abraham Associates visited a phenomenal 19 stores Saturday and wrote, “The stores around the Twin Cities were absolutely packed. We were at Red Balloon while shoppers were in every aisle, and a story time was going on for what looked like 40 kids and their parents. Down in New Mexico, Rick Gallagher, director of PopaZine at Bookazine, toured five stores in his hometown of Albuquerque, including Downtown Books, Organic Books, Page One Books, Bookworks, and Title Wave Books, which used the day to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Chris Hsiang, a bookseller at Books Inc. in San Francisco, cycled 32 miles on Friday and Saturday and visited 18 stores. The long-day of biking capped off the month of April in which, in an effort to fill out the NCIBA Passport," he traveled 216 miles by bike and visited a total of 47 stores, which culminated on Saturday with a visit to Borderlands Books, the first store where he was a bookseller.
Some communities made it easy on their customers and provided transportation between stores. After learning that readers in the Boston area are never more than 20 minutes from an independent bookstore, booksellers Clarissa Murphy and Katie Eelman launched the first Metro Boston Independent Bookstore Day Trolley Tour, which took readers on one of two routes to visit seven indie bookstores. Tickets for both routes sold out weeks in advance and on one route alone, over two dozen readers purchased 175 books and spent $3,500 throughout the day.
“It was absolutely a phenomenal success in all ways, top to bottom,” said Murphy, who is a children’s bookseller at the MIT Press Bookstore. “It exemplified the frenetic energy that is Independent Bookstore Day.”
Fresh off the success of printing the Mueller report on their in-house book printing machine, the Harvard Book Store printed journals in honor of Independent Bookstore Day and were passing out copies to customers who purchased a book on their visit.
Reader Lynne Baer was waiting at the door to Porter Square Books when it opened at 8 a.m. Last year she visited 13 of 14 stores and said she was aiming for 12 in the area this year. Raised on indie bookstores, Baer said she became even more invested in their success after, “seeing how Amazon was shifting the publishing industry.”
“I want these places to be here,” said Baer. “I like them, and I like knowing that they’re here.”