Indie Bookshops – Why Are They So Important?

Indie Bookshops – Why Are They So Important?

Matthew Gurteen

Have you ever found yourself wandering a new place, looking for somewhere to spend your money or just to pass the time, when you stumbled upon a small, privately owned bookstore? Likely you remember the old paper smell and exciting finds of the last time this happened to you. These independent – or indie – bookstores can be found around the world. This article will explain why indie bookshops are so important and give examples from across the globe!

Loosely defined, an indie bookshop is a store not owned by a chain like Waterstones or Barnes & Noble. Although there is a place for chain bookstores, indie bookshops are unique because they offer several features places like Waterstones and Barnes & Noble cannot. Our top five reasons indie bookstores are so important are:

1. They build a sense of community

Indie bookshops are more than just stores. On top of this, they are also event spaces to host local authors, reading groups, and other activities. Indie bookshops are essential because they promote community among readers, which is often a solitary hobby. They encourage authors to share their work and provide a space for readers to discuss ideas. They provide a space for people of all ages, regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity.

2. They promote local interest

By building this sense of community, indie bookshops also promote local stories and authors. They provide a space for regional interest by offering books from the area and hosting events for locals. This local interest is something that chain bookstores cannot offer.

3. They promote small businesses

Of course, it is essential to remember that most indie bookstores are also small businesses. By visiting your local indie bookshop, you are supporting a small local business and, by extension, your community at large!

4. They don’t just stock popular books

Unlike bookstore chains, which are concerned with new releases and famous authors, indie bookshops stock a variety of titles. Of course, new releases and popular books deserve a shelf too. Sometimes, however, you are searching for a forgotten or underappreciated treasure. An indie bookshop is the best place to find such a book, as well as the local stories discussed above.

5. They promote representation

Because indie bookstores stock a variety of texts, they are also great places to find representation. They do not follow trends. Instead, indie bookshops stock novels by authors of all nationalities, with various characters within the pages. If you are looking for variety in literature, an indie bookstore is the place to go!

Famous Indie Bookstores Around the World

Indie bookstores have been the norm for readers for most of history. In recent decades, however, chain bookshops and online retail have arisen, replacing these well-loved locations. Nevertheless, more recently, indie bookshops have started to emerge again. Here are five famous examples of indie bookshops from around the world!

1. Shakespeare and Company (Paris)

Arguably the most famous indie bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company was opened in 1951 on the banks of the river Seine. The building was originally a monastery, and since opening as a bookstore, it has housed several writers under its roof, including Alan Sillitoe, Robert Stone, Kate Grenville, Sebastian Barry, Ethan Hawke, Jeet Thayil, Darren Aronfsky, Geoffrey Rush, and David Rakoff. Each author has written a one-page biography for the store, which now houses thousands of pages!

2. Powell’s Books (Portland)

The largest indie bookstore in the world, University graduate Michael Powell opened the store in 1970, and his granddaughter, Emily, still runs it today. Readers today call it the City of Books. It often stocks more than one edition of the same book, including paperbacks, hardbacks, and first printings. Powell’s Books covers more than 68,000 square feet in 3,500 different sections. It is estimated that the indie bookstore houses around a million books!

3. Livraria Lello (Portugal)

Livraria Lello in Porto claims to be the most enchanting bookstore in the world. Indeed, it claims to be the inspiration behind some of J.K Rowling’s descriptions in her Harry Potter series. It is easy to see why. Built in 1906, Livraria Lello is decorated with Gothic carvings, a winding staircase, and a stained glass window, making this indie bookstore one of the best places to spend an afternoon.

4. Word on the Water (London)

There really is no indie bookstore like London’s Word on the Water anywhere in the world. Built on a hundred-year-old Dutch barge on Regent’s Canal Towpath, readers are invited to jump aboard to browse its selection of new and second-hand books behind King’s Cross station.

5. El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Argentina)

The final indie bookstore on this list is no less magical. El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Argentina was originally a theatre before opening as a bookstore in 2000. Over a million people visit it every year, and it claims to be the most beautiful bookstore in the world.

Unfortunately, despite their popularity, the Covid-19 pandemic threatened many of these indie bookstores, making it more critical than ever that we support them. The best way to support indie bookstores is to search for the ones closest to you if you do not already know where they are. Support also does not mean only buying your books from there. Instead, engaging with any events that the indie bookstore is hosting or offering to volunteer also supports these vital small businesses.

Indie Bookshops - Why Are They So Important?