Independent bookstore

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An independent bookshop in Stoke Newington, London

An independent bookstore is a retail bookstore which is independently owned.[1] Usually, independent stores consist of only a single actual store (although there are some multi-store independents). They may be structured as sole proprietorships, closely held corporations or partnerships (i.e. a small number of shareholders or partners), cooperatives, or nonprofits. Independent stores can be contrasted with chain bookstores, which have many locations and are owned by large corporations which often have other divisions besides bookselling.

Literary and countercultural history[edit]

City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, 2010

Author events at independent bookstores sometimes take the role of literary salons.[2] The bookstores themselves, "have historically supported and cultivated the work of independent authors and poets. Chances are if it were not for bookstores like McIntyre’s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg would not enjoy the celebrity they did."[3] This relationship with authors is referenced in the 1988 film, Crossing Delancey.

City Lights[edit]

City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti became its sole owner in 1955, and started City Lights Publishers that same year.[4] Among the writers it publishes are the Beat poets, including Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg.[5]

In 1956 City Lights published Howl & Other Poems as number 4 in its City Lights Pocket Poets Series. Ferlinghetti and the bookstore manager, Shigeyoshi Murao, were arrested on an obscenity charge for publishing and selling the book.[6]

Cody's Books[edit]

The now defunct Cody's Books opened in 1956 on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, California. It moved to a larger location on Telegraph Avenue in 1967. In 1968, "Cody's served as a first-aid station [...] when anti-war protesters were teargassed and clubbed just outside its Telegraph Avenue doors [...] the store's employees were tending the wounded – anti-war protesters teargassed and clubbed by the police and the National Guard as protests broke out on Telegraph Avenue."[7]

On February 28, 1989 unknown persons threw a firebomb at the store in response to the prominent display of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses which had a fatwa placed against it by Iranian clerics one month prior. In response the owners and staff unanimously voted to keep the book on display despite the attack and the increasing willingness of chain book-stores to bow to pressure to withdraw it.[8]

Kepler's Books[edit]

Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, California was founded in 1955 by Roy Kepler.[9] The store "soon blossomed into a cultural epicenter and attracted loyal customers from the students and faculty of Stanford University and from other members of the surrounding communities who were interested in serious books and ideas."[10] The Palo Alto Weekly notes that, "Through the 60s and 70s, the culture of Kepler's began to evolve into a broader counter-culture. Beat intellectuals and pacifists were joined by 'people who worked for Whole Earth, hippies into the rock and roll and recreational drug scene, politicos, and people with an interest in ethnic groups.'"[9]

The Grateful Dead gave live shows at Kepler's early in their career.[11] As noted in a 2005 article, "folk singer Joan Baez, members of the Grateful Dead, and many local leaders remember sharing ideas, political action, music, and danger in the cramped store."[12] Kepler's also features prominently in John Markoff's 2005 text, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

Printers Inc.[edit]

The now defunct Printers Inc. Bookstore in Palo Alto, California is mentioned in the novel, The Golden Gate. The novel follows the lives of a group of yuppies in San Francisco (author Vikram Seth based the work on his experiences as a graduate student in Economics at Stanford University).[13] The Printer's Inc Cafe is referenced in section 8.13 ("Should we walk down to Printers Inc, and get some coffee? [...] brownies, muffins, fudge, cake, toffee-most of the stuff's so good it hurts")[14] and the Printers Inc Bookstore is referenced in section 8.14 ("The enchanted bookstore, vast, rectangular [...] skilled extractor of my last dime on print or drink, mini-montmartre, Printers Inc!")[15]

Shakespeare and Company[edit]

Shakespeare and Company was an English-language bookstore in Paris operated by Sylvia Beach. It became a literary meeting place visited by authors belonging to the "lost generation" such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.[16][17] It was Sylvia Beach who first published Joyce's book, Ulysses, in 1922 through Shakespeare and Company.[18] The store was referenced in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.[17]

Bookstore tourism[edit]

Powell's Books NW 10th and Burnside entrance in Portland
The Strand Book Store at 828 Broadway and 12th St. in New York

Bookstore tourism is a type of cultural tourism that promotes independent bookstores as a group travel destination. It started as a grassroots effort to support locally owned and operated bookshops, many of which have struggled to compete with large bookstore chains and online retailers. The project was initiated by Larry Portzline, a writer and college instructor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who led "bookstore road trips" to other cities and recognized its potential as a group travel niche and marketing tool.[19]

In 2007, The New York Times argued that the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, is the "most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place" in the United States.[20] It discussed three bookshops in the region, Amherst Books in Amherst, Massachusetts, Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Massachusetts, and The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts.[20]

In 2008, USA Today listed nine top bookstore travel destinations in the United States as: Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, City Lights Books in San Francisco, The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado, That Bookstore in Blytheville in Blytheville, Arkansas, and the Strand Book Store in New York City.[21]

Financial struggles and notable closures[edit]

Since the rise of big chains and online booksellers, independent bookstores have been under considerable financial pressure[22][23] and many have closed due to their inability to compete.[24] This phenomenon is reflected in the 1998 film You've Got Mail, which explores the difficulties faced by an independent bookseller competing with a large corporate bookstore.

Notable closures include Kroch's and Brentano's (1995) in Chicago, Gotham Book Mart (2006) in New York, Cody's Books (2008) in Berkeley, Printers Inc. Bookstore (2001) in Palo Alto, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (2006) in San Francisco,[25] Midnight Special (2004) in Santa Monica,[26] Dutton’s Brentwood Books (2008) in Los Angeles,[27] Coliseum Books (2007) in New York City and Wordsworth Books (2004) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[28]

In some cases, the community became involved and prevented an independent bookstore from closing. A notable example is Kepler's Books. Kepler's closed its doors on August 31, 2005.[29] The local community held demonstrations to protest the closing.[30] Kepler's subsequently re-opened in October 2005 with community investments, volunteers and donations.[31] A similar attempt was made with Printers Inc. Bookstore in 1998. In December, Printers Inc. announced that it would be closing.[32][33][34] The local community protested the closing and in March 1999 Printers Inc. found new management.[35] This management only lasted a few years, however, and in 2001 Printers Inc. Bookstore closed for good.[36]

Documentary films[edit]

Two documentary films, Indies Under Fire (2006) and Paperback Dreams (2008), explore the difficulties faced by independent bookstores in the new economy, focusing in particular on Cody's Books, Kepler's Books, and Printers Inc. Bookstore.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "American Booksellers Association". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Bookstores are bestsellers – independent bookseller Chapters: A Literary Bookstore is successful – includes related article on starting a bookstore". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  3. ^ "North Carolina authors support independent bookstore". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Ferlinghetti's City Lights lands a West Coast first as host for National Book Award announcement". San Francisco Chronicle. October 11, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ Landmark status likely for beatnik-era bookstore[dead link]
  6. ^ "'The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  7. ^ Elaine Herscher, Chronicle East Bay Bureau (June 27, 1996). "Berkeley Celebrates 40-Year Love Affair With Cody's Books: Independent bookseller has outlived beats, hippies and the rise of chains". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Cody's Books: An Historical Berkeley Landmark and Independent Bookstore Begins Archive at the Bancroft Library". February 28, 1989. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "The culture of Kepler's: At 50, venerable bookstore still has soul". May 11, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  10. ^ Daedalus Howell, Special to The Chronicle (May 13, 2005). "Kepler's turns another page: After 50 years, the epicenter of the Peninsula's counterculture is still shaking things up". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  11. ^ "How the Dead Came to Life". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Cover story: Kepler's: more than a bookstore". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Vikram Seth returns to the Golden Gate". December 31, 2004. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  14. ^ Vikram Seth. The Golden Gate, (New York, Vintage, 1991): 179
  15. ^ Vikram Seth. The Golden Gate, (New York, Vintage, 1991): 180
  16. ^ "James Joyce Images". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "The Beats go on". March 3, 2002. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  18. ^ Shopkeeper of Shakespeare and Company
  19. ^ "Larry Portzline". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  20. ^ a b Mummert, Roger (November 16, 2007). "In the Valley of the Literate". The New York Times. Pioneer Valley (Mass);Amherst (Mass). Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  21. ^ BETH J. HARPAZ, AP Travel Editor (January 8, 2008). "Nine destination bookstores worth putting on a tourist's itinerary". USA Today. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Smaller Bookstores End Court Struggle Against Two Chains". New York Times. April 20, 2001. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Light in Oxford: How the vision of one independent bookseller has revitalized the heart of Faulkner's Mississippi". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  24. ^ Babwin, Don (October 9, 2006). "Independent bookstores fighting chains, Internet to stay open". USA Today. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Clean Well-Lighted Place dimming its lights for good". San Francisco Chronicle. July 19, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  26. ^ (May 7, 2004). "Great Loss – Midnight Special Bookstore to Close for Good". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Dutton’s bids loyal customers farewell". Los Angeles Times. March 31, 2008. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Closing store has them at loss for words". Boston Globe. December 1, 2004. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  29. ^ "The End". September 2, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Saving Kepler's: Investors await response from landlord". September 14, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  31. ^ "MENLO PARK / As Kepler's Books reopens, customers queue at registers". San Francisco Chronicle. October 9, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  32. ^ "COMMUNITY: Printers Inc. will shut down in March". December 11, 1998. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Internet Smashing Small Bookstores: Printers Inc. in Palo Alto to close". San Francisco Chronicle. December 26, 1998. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  34. ^ Reuters. "Death of a Bookshop". Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  35. ^ "BUSINESS: Palo Alto Printers Inc. to remain open". March 26, 1999. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 
  36. ^ "Saving a bookstore". July 4, 2001. Retrieved November 28, 2011. 

External links[edit]