An independent bookstore is a retail bookstore which isindependently owned. Specifically, independent stores will typically consist of only a single actual store (although there are some multi-store independents). They may be structured as sole proprietorships, closely heldcorporations or partnerships (i.e. a small number of shareholders or partners),cooperatives, or nonprofits. Independent stores can be contrasted with chain bookstores, which have many locations and are owned by large corporations which often have other divisions besides bookselling.
Literary and countercultural history
Author events at independent bookstores sometimes take the role ofliterary salons. The bookstores themselves, “have historically supported and cultivated the work of independent authors and poets. Chances are if it were not for bookstores like McIntyre’s,Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg would not enjoy the celebrity they did.” This relationship with authors is referenced in the 1988 film, Crossing Delancey.
City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti became its sole owner in 1955, and started City Lights Publishersthat same year. Among the writers it publishes are the Beat poets, includingJack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg.
In 1956 City Lights published Howl & Other Poems as number 4 in its City Lights Pocket Poets Series. Ferlinghetti and the bookstore manager, Shigeyoshi Murao, were arrested on an obscenitycharge for publishing and selling the book.
The now defunct Cody’s Books opened in 1956 on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, California. It moved to a larger location on Telegraph Avenue in 1967. In 1968, “Cody’s served as a first-aid station […] when anti-war protesters were teargassed and clubbed just outside its Telegraph Avenue doors […] the store’s employees were tending the wounded – anti-war protesters teargassed and clubbed by the police and the National Guard as protests broke out on Telegraph Avenue.”
On February 28, 1989 unknown persons threw a firebomb at the store in response to the prominent display ofSalman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verseswhich had a fatwa placed against it byIranian clerics one month prior. In response the owners and staff unanimously voted to keep the book on display despite the attack and the increasing willingness of chain book-stores to bow to pressure to withdraw it.
Gotham Book Mart
The now-defunct Gotham Book Mart ofNew York City often sold banned booksduring its early history, notably Henry Miller‘s “Tropic of Cancer” and D. H. Lawrence‘s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The store was notably frequented by many influential authors, artists and other celebrities over its history, and was the meeting place for the Finnegan’s Wake Society and the James Joyce Society. Allen Ginsberg used to be one of the store’s clerks for a time. The store’s lengthy struggles to remain viable in latter years as Manhattan rents increased and competition from both internet bookstores and large-chain bookstores impacted it has been well documented. The store’s history dramatically concluded with its inventory being seized by the City Marshall for failure to pay rent, and then the estimated $3 million in inventory was auctioned off in one single lot to the landlords for $400,000 to the protest of other bookmen and collectors present.
Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Californiawas founded in 1955 by Roy Kepler.The store “soon blossomed into a cultural epicenter and attracted loyal customers from the students and faculty of Stanford University and from other members of the surrounding communities who were interested in serious books and ideas.” The Palo Alto Weekly notes that, “Through the 60s and 70s, the culture of Kepler’s began to evolve into a broader counter-culture. Beat intellectuals and pacifists were joined by ‘people who worked for Whole Earth, hippies into the rock and roll and recreational drug scene, politicos, and people with an interest in ethnic groups.'”
The Grateful Dead gave live shows at Kepler’s early in their career. As noted in a 2005 article, “folk singer Joan Baez, members of the Grateful Dead, and many local leaders remember sharing ideas, political action, music, and danger in the cramped store.” Kepler’s also features prominently in John Markoff‘s 2005 text, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.
The now defunct Printers Inc. Bookstorein Palo Alto, California is mentioned in the novel, The Golden Gate. The novel follows the lives of a group of yuppies in San Francisco (author Vikram Sethbased the work on his experiences as a graduate student in Economics atStanford University). The Printer’s Inc Cafe is referenced in section 8.13 (“Should we walk down to Printers Inc, and get some coffee? […] brownies, muffins, fudge, cake, toffee-most of the stuff’s so good it hurts”) and thePrinters Inc Bookstore is referenced in section 8.14 (“The enchanted bookstore, vast, rectangular […] skilled extractor of my last dime on print or drink, mini-montmartre, Printers Inc!”)
Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company was anEnglish-language bookstore in Paris operated by Sylvia Beach. It became a literary meeting place visited by authors belonging to the “lost generation” such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein andJames Joyce. It was Sylvia Beachwho first published Joyce’s book,Ulysses, in 1922 through Shakespeare and Company. The store was referenced in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
The Book Man
The Book Man was founded inChilliwack in 1990 by owner David Short. Expanded and enlarged until it was 5000 square feet, a second 1600 branch was opened in 2011 in the neighboring city ofAbbotsford. Frequented by clients such as W. P. Kinsella and Neil Gaiman its two branches serve as a haven for lovers of literature. Author Jes Battisdedicated his first novel to The Book Man and attributed it as being the perfect place for a young author to grow up in. Celebrities such as Toren Atkinson of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have been employed in its aisles, and it has become the hub of many literacy initiatives in the Fraser Valley of Canada. In a time of bookstores closing, The Book Man is thriving.
Bookstore tourism is a type of cultural tourism that promotes independent bookstores as a group travel destination. It started as a grassrootseffort to support locally owned and operated bookshops, many of which have struggled to compete with large bookstore chains and online retailers. The project was initiated by Larry Portzline, a writer and college instructor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who led “bookstore road trips” to other cities and recognized its potential as a group travel niche and marketing tool.
In 2007, The New York Times argued that the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, is the “most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place” in the United States. It discussed three bookshops in the region, Amherst Books in Amherst, Massachusetts, Broadside Bookshop inNorthampton, Massachusetts, and The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
In 2008, USA Today listed nine top bookstore travel destinations in the United States as: Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, City Lights Books in San Francisco, The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Politics and Prosein Washington, D.C., Powell’s Books inPortland, Oregon, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado, That Bookstore in Blythevillein Blytheville, Arkansas, and the Strand Book Store in New York City.
Financial struggles and notable closures
Since the rise of big chains and online booksellers, independent bookstores have been under considerable financial pressure and many have closed due to their inability to compete. This phenomenon is reflected in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, which explores the difficulties faced by an independent bookseller competing with a large corporate bookstore.
Notable closures include Kroch’s and Brentano’s (1995) in Chicago, Gotham Book Mart (2006) in New York, Cody’s Books (2008) in Berkeley, Printers Inc. Bookstore (2001) in Palo Alto, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (2006) in San Francisco, Midnight Special(2004) in Santa Monica, Dutton’s Brentwood Books (2008) in Los Angeles, Coliseum Books (2007) in New York City and Wordsworth Books(2004) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In some cases, the community became involved and prevented an independent bookstore from closing. A notable example is Kepler’s Books. Kepler’s closed its doors on August 31, 2005.The local community held demonstrations to protest the closing. Kepler’s subsequently re-opened in October 2005 with community investments, volunteers and donations. A similar attempt was made with Printers Inc. Bookstore in 1998. In December, Printers Inc. announced that it would be closing. The local community protested the closing and in March 1999 Printers Inc. found new management.This management only lasted a few years, however, and in 2001 Printers Inc. Bookstore closed for good.
Two documentary films, Indies Under Fire(2006) and Paperback Dreams (2008), explore the difficulties faced by independent bookstores in the new economy, focusing in particular onCody’s Books, Kepler’s Books, andPrinters Inc. Bookstore.