Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Need Another Reason to Love Indie Book Sellers?

Saturday afternoon, while tornados were tearing up Raleighwood within a few miles of where we live, we were about 45 minutes to the north in Chapel Hill.  We were meeting our daughter and her fiance for dinner at Foster's Market and other adventures the following day.

Next to Foster's is an indie bookstore, Flyleaf Books.  Flyleaf hosts a regular series of author presentations (my friend and co-werker, Ellen Bush, did a reading from her book of poetry, Licorice, there) and I was curious to see what the store and their presentation area were like.

It was everything I love in a bookstore: walls lined with bookshelves, tables with stacks of books, and a distinct lack of non-book items (tchotchke, generic games, toys, keychains, and, thank goodness, no food, sodas or coffee).  A few chairs were available, and the lighting was inviting but intimate--as if you were personally being asked to get comfortable with that book that seems so intriguing.

As usual, I headed to the children's section first.  I think you can tell a lot about a book store by the way the handle niche categories of books and, as a former children's librarian, children's is what I know best. Flyleaf had a great children's section, mixing picture books, MG & YA in a comfortable, wide corner of the store, with child-sized chairs and inviting displays.

Best of all, were a scattering of notes like this one.  Personalized, hand-written recommendations for specific books.  There weren't so many that a customer would get overwhelmed, but enough to show that the staff truly love these books and are eager to share the pleasure those books gave them with others.

I have little doubt that most people who work in book stores are book lovers.  Corporate owners, on the other hand, may have an appreciation for books, but I think between shareholders and the incessant need for profits, what gets sold in corporate bookstores tends to be regarded as Product*.  Product is, I think, the great soul-killer in retail.

Independent book stores, on the other hand, tend to be owned and operated by people with a great love and appreciation for books.  They sell Books, not Product, and have a strong enough commitment to Books that they're willing to try and carve a niche out for themselves in the community.  In a competitive world of shrinking profits, Amazon, and corporate bookseller's deep discounts on best sellers, that's a mighty gutsy thing to do that easily earns my respect.

When I saw this recommendation, I read it, smiled, and walked straight out of the store.  My family was waiting for me at our car, ready to get the rest of the evening started.  Instead, I opened the trunk and pulled out my camera.  "Sorry," I explained.  "I have to go take a picture."

This photo is for my friend Todd.  He just re-read the book that Liz recommends for the 35th time.

(And I can't offer a contest for the first person to guess the title, but there are bragging rights to be handed out if you guess correctly!)

What do you love about indie bookstores?  Have any favorites?  What makes them special to you?

-- Tom

p.s.  I can't believe I missed DICK AND JANE AND VAMPIRES until I was working on this image in Photoshop.  Now I have to go back to Flyleaf and see if it's as good as I hope it is.


* In my mid-twenties I worked for a DC-area record/tape/CD store.  I got the job thinking it was a natural fit--I loved music and working around music would be enjoyable.  My first day on the job the Manager took me to the back storage area and showed me the shelves filled with CDs.  "Here's where we keep all the Product," she said.  I knew right then that the job was not what I was thinking it would be.  (And, of course, it wasn't)