One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to scout out independent bookstores in the towns I visit. There is something special about walking into a local bookstore and asking for recommendations from the owner. I have been spoiled by Square Books in Oxford where folks who work there will help you find the next book for your book club or recommend the perfect gift for someone you’re having a hard time picking something for. Some of my best book picks have come from recommendations at indies: The Lost German Slave Girl and The Children’s Blizzard by Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson; A Very Long Engagement by Sundog Books in Seaside, FL; The Help by Turn Row Bookstore in Greenwood; The Secret History and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Square Books in Oxford.
I remember the smell of the coffee brewing upstairs in Square Books and the sound of the wood floors squeaking in Turn Row books. In Savannah, GA, my favorite stop was at Ex Libris Bookstore at the Savannah College of Art and Design; in New York City it was the Strand Bookstore; in Denver it was Tattered Cover. When I am in Greenville, I love to stop by McCormick Book Inn. When I’m in New Orleans, I love to visit Faulkner House and Beaucoup Books.
What makes a good bookstore? In my opinion, a local favorites section, staff picks that are identified easily, friendly and well-read employees who are anxious to share their enthusiasm for a book they have read, a cafe or coffee shop on site, big comfy furniture where you can curl up and actually get the feel for a book before you buy it, wi-fi in the store where I can pull up reviews or lists I’ve made on Shelfari, a great sale table or, as is the case with Square Books, a separate location where remainders and sale books can be snatched up on the cheap.
There is a real art to marketing items like books. People who are shopping for them want help and advice, but you better know your stuff. If I’m into historical fiction, don’t recommend the latest sci-fi to me. I love the newsletters, the websites and the blogs that independent bookstores create. Independent bookstores are a destination for me like great restaurants are for other people. Good books make good bookstores, and good recommendations keep the customers coming back for more!