The Story Business: Four Stories About Independent Bookstores

Photo by Omar Bárcena

“Job title: bookseller.” Every time I sneak a glance at the sheaf of employment forms and tax information, I can’t believe it. That job title is mine, now. It’s a lifelong dream come true, as cliche as that sounds. True to millennial form, I’m going to do Online Things for my local indie: blogging, tweeting, research. It’s another step in my quest to own a bookstore of my own one day—now, I can stop daydreaming and see if this is really something I’m cut out for. Wish me luck! To prepare for my first staff meeting, I read these four essays about independent bookstores, specifically their employees: shelvers, sorters, owners, publicity directors and more.

1. “The Few, The Proud, the Independent Bookstores” (Joanna Scutts, The Daily Beast, February 2015)

M., the owner of my future book-home, had a wonderful time at this year’s Winter Institute—part convention, part workshop, part reunion—hosted by the American Booksellers Association. Joanna Scutts’ report insists on the importance of in-store events, publisher support and social media, and posits that big-box bookstores might not be the enemy after all.

2. “The Bookstore Brain” (Sam Sacks, The New Yorker, October 2012)

Sam Sacks has had several book-related gigs, but his favorite? Sorting books at Housing Works bookstore in New York City. Sacks balances his own literary preferences with those of the typical book buyer, choosing which books to display in-store and which to stock online.

3. “Our Better Shelves” (Kate Brittain, The Morning News, August 2014)

Kate Brittain created an online database of independent bookstores. During her virtual explorations, she discovers the unique offerings of brick-and-mortar stores—nudism! booze! toys!—can conquer the sterile internet marketplace.

4. “Shelving to Save a Book’s Life” (Susan Coll, The Atlantic, July 2014)

Susan Coll includes such delightful details in her writing. She is the director of events & publicity at Politics & Prose, a heralded, historic indie bookstore in Washington, D.C. Although she’s “a softie for the kindly pediatrician who keeps calling even though I have never heard of his publisher,” she loves to shelve books. “In a bookstore, you can decide, unilaterally, without having to ask permission or sit in an hour-long meeting, to simply face out Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance because, well, because it’s one of your favorite books … Turning a book face out is the micro version of Stephen Colbert bestowing likely bestsellerdom on a debut novel caught in the Hachette/Amazon crossfire.”