What is a bookstore for?
A bookstore is much more than a place to purchase books. A bookstore is about the process of finding, choosing, and selecting books.
In this age of internet retailing, the brick & mortar bookstore is not only surviving, but thriving. More people became readers during the COVID pandemic, and once they were able to be out and about again, people flocked to bookstores. I can’t tell you how many times I asked a customer at my store if they needed any assistance and they smiled and said: “I’m just so happy to be in a bookstore again.”
What is it about bookstores that makes us happy to be in them? What do readers want and need from bookstores?
While you might pop into a bookstore looking for something specific, often a bookstore is a place to be and browse without a specific goal.
A bookstore should have a welcoming atmosphere. It should have booksellers who are friendly, helpful, and knowledgable.
A bookstore is a place where community coalesces. Some small neighborhood stores are gathering places, and places to find information, be it about local events, real estate, or other local news.
A bookstore is a place to interact with people who care about books, and to talk about books. A bookstore is a place to find something you didn’t know you were looking for.
Every bookstore has a personality. Some are bright and modern. Some are small and cozy. Some are cramped and musty, their books lovingly askew on the shelves. Others are spacious and smell like new books. You know that smell. You might not be able to describe it, but you inhale it happily when you walk into a bookstore.
Some bookstore’s personalities are created by their theme: mystery bookstores, or feminist stores, or bookstores that specialize in cookbooks. Some announce their politics front and center. Some focus on literary fiction, while others offer you the latest beach read. Some bookstores carefully curate their collection, while others try to give you some of everything.
What does a bookstore need from a community? Support. Bookstores need to be shopped in order to survive.
And what does a bookstore owe a community? Open arms. Helpful booksellers. A thorough and diverse selection. A focus on local topics and authors. And love: a love of books and a desire to share a love of reading.
For five years I was the co-owner of a small independent bookstore, and now I work for Barnes & Noble and I am a store manager at a big city store. I’ve worked in book publishing for decades, my entire career, and I’ve been an editor, a literary agent, and a program manager for a graduate publishing program at a small college. Then I became a bookseller and I found the place I wanted to stay. There is a term in our business called “handselling,” and it means helping a customer find a book, recommending just the right book for them, and literally putting it in their hand. There is nothing more rewarding that I have ever done in my entire career.
My mission in life is to share my love of reading and to spread my belief that books can change lives for the better. I accomplish that as a bookseller, at a bookstore. Come visit me at my store. I’ll handsell you a book that just might change your life. That’s what a bookstore is for.