Across the country this weekend, independent bookstores once again celebrated Independent Bookstore Day, this year on April 29. Some bookselling scenes began the lead-up to the celebration even earlier, with "passport" promotions that offered customers discounts after visiting a certain number of stores.
Crawling in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl returned to the borough on April 22 for another week-long promotion. This year, a record-breaking 25 indie bookstores are participating in the crawl, which culminated April 29 at the Center for Fiction. Participants could pick up "passports" at any of the participating bookstores, to be stamped upon a visit to any of the participating stores. Five stamps earned participants a 25% coupon for any of the 25 stores, good through the month of May.
Participating bookstores reported that the promotion was off to an auspicious start as early as the crawl's opening day, when PW checked in with multiple stores. Steven Warren, manager of WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint, estimated that he stamped about 150 passports on April 22, and said the store broke $3,300 in sales.
In Williamsburg, Mark Lambert, a bookseller at McNally Jackson, said on Saturday that the store "got a rush" of customers coming in with their passports, with some starting out their crawl at McNally and other picking up a stamp along the way. He noted many crawlers bought multiple books, "grabbing a handful" before heading out to their next destination.
At the Center for Fiction in Fort Greene, booksellers Leah Bronstein and Harry Cash said that Saturday was "crazy" and "super busy," with sales breaking $4,500 and many crawlers arriving at noon having already visited five stores. Just down the street at Greenlight Books, store manager Mandy McClintock said that on the crawl's second day, the majority of customers coming into the store were participants with passports. "People are literally spending their day doing this," she said.
Stephanie Valdez, co-owner of Community Bookstore in Park Slope, witnessed the most "excitement and enthusiasm" for the crawl that she'd ever seen. She saw many customers doing the crawl "in earnest," coming in with their passports already stamped by other stores—which she said "hadn't happened in years past." She also noted that people were excited to visit stores that are participating in the crawl for the first time this year, like Taylor and Co. in Ditmas.
Rebirth and Revival in the Twin Cities
Twenty-three indies across the Twin Cities metro area participated in Independent Bookstore Day this year, with Rain Taxi producing a Twin Cities Independent Bookstore Passport that consumers could get stamped at participating bookstores to receive 20% discounts on their in-store purchases between May 1-Sept. 30.
Bookstores visited by PW on April 29 included St. Paul’s Next Chapter Books, a full-service general bookstore located across the street from Macalester College, and Black Garnet Books, which specializes in books by BIPOC authors. Black Garnet, previously a pop-up, opened its doors as a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in October 2022.
On the other side of the Mississippi River, in Minneapolis, Uncle Hugo’s, a science fiction bookstore, and Uncle Edgar’s, a mystery bookstore, welcomed customers to their new location in one space in a historic building a block away from Moon Palace Books; the space used to house a post office, and still boasts a walk-in safe and a WPA mural. During a weekend of violence following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, the Uncles were burned to the ground, and owner Don Blyly has spent his time since rebuilding.
Moon Palace and the Uncles were both packed with customers on Saturday, as was Babycake’s BookStack, a mobile bookstore specializing in children's books by BIPOC authors housed inside a bus that was parked outside Moon Palace all day.
Meanwhile, on the Left Coast
Seattle’s sprawling IBD included 27 stores and allowed store visitors 10 days to visit them all. “Grand champions” who collect a stamp from every store by May 8 earn 25% off coupons for all the shops; 335 customers received that distinction last year. In 2023, even those Seattle browsers who collect five stamps will get one 25% off coupon to be redeemed at one bookstore of their choice.
Phil Bevis, owner of Arundel Books in historic Pioneer Square, prints and donates the Seattle IBD passports through his indie press Chatwin Books and shop Chatwin Printing. This year, he challenged people to dress up as their favorite authors for a #BookCostumeContest, with winners receiving gift certificates. Business was brisk at Arundel on Saturday: “It has been a record day for number of retail transactions,” Bevis said.
Not to be outdone, 10 bookstores around the Seattle metro area banded together to independently create their own IBD passport. Allyson Howard, whose Invitation Bookshop opened a year ago in Gig Harbor, Wash., drove the effort. “We got the ball rolling for the South Sound Book Crawl,” Howard said. “We definitely saw a spike in our normal IBD traffic, so it does seem like lots of people were out celebrating all the stores.” In Olympia, Browsers Bookshop hosted OMFG Bees! author Matt Kracht (known for his Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America) and presented an installation by Oly cut-paper artist and author Nikki McClure (Old Wood Boat).
In Poulsbo, Wash., a quaint destination on the Kitsap Peninsula known as Little Norway for its Scandinavian architecture and history, two bookstores participated in the Seattle and South Sound crawls. Liberty Bay Books, which has occupied its Front Street location since 1977 (when it was Shotwell’s), stamped passports for team Seattle. Across the street, new owners Bittina and Kevin Sheen of Away with Words welcomed SSBC travelers to spin a wheel for bonus loot.
Ballast Bookshop owner Kate Larson stamped both Seattle and SSBC passports in Bremerton, Wash. Larson laughed that a customer had arrived at Ballast’s 9 a.m. opening to seek the coveted Libro.fm golden ticket, hoping to claim 12 free audiobooks; another customer showed up an hour later and promptly found the ticket taped behind a poster. No hearts were broken, because the two decided to split the audiobook bounty.
Salmonberry Books, opened five months ago, operates out of a 200-square-foot stall at the Port Orchard public market. Visitors grabbed a selection of literary fiction, graphic novels, and staff picks, new and used, along with curated vinyl, posters, and stickers. Hi-Voltage Records & Books in Tacoma, which started selling records in 2005 and debuted its bookstore side in December 2021, offered 20% off all books on IBD.
Llamas Read Too
Not all IBD promotions were passport-oriented. San Francisco's BookShop West Portal once again celebrated IBD by bringing in a passel of llamas to attract, entertain, and occasionally nuzzle customers. Crowds were robust throughout the day, store buyer and special projects manager Susan Tunis said, with the store clearing its courtyard for "Llamapalooza," featuring llamas from Circle Home Ranch in Sonora, Calif., at noon.
"The community absolutely loves visiting with these sweet and gentle animals," Tunis said. "This year, Chai, Yanni, and Amigo won the hearts of all that met them. Chai had people brushing him all afternoon. He definitely wins the prize for best groomed. Amigo was the carrot-eating champ. And Yanni was most photogenic."
Inside the shop, Tunis added, the store sold IBD merch, gave away hundreds of “blind date” books, and held a raffle, with local merchants helping to celebrate by sending over treats throughout the day, including coffee from Peet’s, chocolate chip cookies from Noe Valley Bakery, pizzas from Mozzarella di Bufala, frozen yogurt from Easy Breezy, and lemonade from Lemonade.
Riverside, Calif.'s Cellar Door Bookshop, making plans for a move from Canyon Crest to a new space on Alessandro Boulevard in May, celebrated in fierce style. Owner Linda Sherman-Nurick hosted a drag queen story time in the old location, and longtime community customers and book club members stopped by to show support as Cellar Door heads into a new era.