- Enrique Limón
Despite widespread predictions of their imminent demise a decade ago, independent bookstores around the nation continue to thrive. Stores in Utah have seen an increase in sales and popularity despite competition from e-books, larger booksellers and online retail giants. As Independent Bookstore Day approaches on Saturday, April 27, indie booksellers are thrilled that they hold a special place in our hearts, but they aren't necessarily surprised by their success.
"Bookstores and books hold our future, our history and our culture," says Anne Holman, general manager of The King's English Bookshop. "They hold everything that we believe in."
Although many might consider reading to be a solitary activity, Holman points out that "books actually lead to discussion, new ideas and a sense of community." She mentions that one of the reasons The King's English has been successful for more than 40 years is because they promote and contribute heavily to the community. "The King's English was one of the first businesses in Utah to begin the Buy Local First initiative, which was also one of the first in the country. For every dollar that we make, we pay a portion of that to local employees, a local accountant, local services, and local taxes. Everything we make stays in Utah. People recognize that focus and want to support that." Holman feels strongly that being an active member of the community is important to any small business.
Utah booksellers agree that unique and exciting events are also important to their success. The King's English hosts regular author events and book signings for local authors as well as occasional big names. Recently, the bookshop hosted Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, who was in town to promote his new book Bridge of Clay. Children's storytime is another tradition at The King's English, every day at 11 a.m. "We are on our third and fourth generations of kids growing up with The King's English," Holman reports.
Another local bookstore, Marissa's Books and Gifts in Murray, has also seen an increase in business in recent years. Owner Cindy Dumas echoes the importance of contributing to and participating in the community. "We donate books to schools and libraries in the area, and we try to provide children's books at a very low cost so that these are affordable and accessible to everyone," Dumas says. "People recognize our contributions, and we also receive many donations of used books, which we are able to resale. They help support the bookstore because we support the community."
Two things are immediately apparent about Dumas: She is passionate about books, and she has a keen mind for the unique challenges booksellers face. Marissa's Books and Gifts has been in business for just more than five years, and Dumas has led the expansion to a larger location and implemented many innovative approaches. She buys larger orders of books than most booksellers to keep costs low. Marissa's Books also entered an impressive float in the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City for the first time last year in order to reach and connect with a local audience. "We were in front of tens of thousands of local eyes and even on television," Dumas says "People mention it all the time when they come into the store."
Marissa's Books also recently hosted a successful 25-cent book sale. "We sold about 30,000 books over the course of the weekend," Cindy reports. "I don't know the blueprint for a successful bookstore, but I know that it's not just opening the doors."
At Marissa's Books & Gifts, the first thing visitors notice when they enter is the sheer number and selection of books. Fortunately, each section of the store is carefully organized and curated to help customers find exactly what they are looking for. Perhaps the most remarkable offering is a large children's section featuring many new books at just $2 each. Dumas is also excited about the upcoming launch of the store's website, which she anticipates will be a unique and meaningful experience for customers buying books online.
What can people do to support independent book stores beyond buying books? Holman and Dumas offer answers. "Shop local first and support your library. Meet your neighbors and have conversations about books," Holman says. Dumas agrees: "Give back to the community when you can," she recommends. "We can use volunteers for our next 25-cent book sale in the spring, and we accept donations of books year round. We really need sci-fi all the time."
Business ingenuity, creative advertisingand connections to local customers are important to the efforts of these local bookstores. But those who care about these businesses should never forget the dedication and passion of the individual booksellers themselves. All it takes to see the results of their labors is a look inside. CW