When the Mall del Norte branch of B. Dalton booksellers closed in January 2010, CNN reported, the city of Laredo, Texas (population 250,000), became the largest American city without a bookstore. “The closest bookstore is now 150 miles away, in San Antonio,” wrote CNN’s Ed Lavandera. Laredo was likely just the first of many American bookstore deserts, as Barnes & Noble continues to falter with every quarterly earnings report and rural retail zones get sucked dry by Walmart and Amazon.
Seattle stands apart from the nation because we have a dense population of thriving independent bookstores, and on Saturday, April 30, they’re throwing a party to celebrate our unique bookstore culture. Seventeen local booksellers (including far-flung shops like Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Edmonds Bookshop, and Island Books on Mercer Island) are observing Independent Bookstore Day with exclusive books, prize giveaways, and author appearances.
For those who want to make a day of it, there’s a special challenge: Customers who get Independent Bookstore Day passports stamped at all 17 Seattle-area bookstores on the 30th will receive 25 percent off every purchase at all participating bookstores for one year. Less-hardy souls who visit only a store or two will still have the opportunity to buy limited-edition merchandise, like a Neil Gaiman-themed coloring book, a bookstore-themed essay written by Ann Patchett, Curious George stuffed animals, and art prints. Locally, Fantagraphics Books is publishing a special anthology comic called Underground Seattle celebrating Seattle’s cartooning scene just for Independent Bookstore Day shoppers.
A complete list of events would be way too long for this space—check your local booksellers’ website for schedules—but highlights include a local sci-fi authors’ panel (featuring Greg Bear, Robin Hobb, Elliott Kay, and Matt Ruff) at University Book Store; free coffee and scones at Third Place Lake Forest Park; a release party for Underground Seattle featuring local cartoonists at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery; all sorts of cooking demos all day long at the Book Larder; cake at Secret Garden Books; and novelist Stewart O’Nan at Elliott Bay Book Company. (And at 7 p.m., I’ll be chatting onstage with American Book Award-winning author Shann Ray at Phinney Books.)
It’s impossible to imagine a Seattle without its array of independent bookstores catering to every audience, from stalwart genre outposts like Seattle Mystery Bookshop in Pioneer Square—which just earned a new lease on life thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign—to the STEM-obsessed Ada’s Technical Books on Capitol Hill. These bookstores are the reason Seattle has such an atypically overstuffed literary calendar for an American city, with three to seven literary events every single weeknight, and they supply us with our national reputation as a home for hyperliterate book nerds.
Artistically and commercially, Seattle’s values are closely aligned with the values of independent booksellers. We revere books, we loathe censorship, and we absolutely hate it when someone tries to control the way we think. Maybe that’s why we’ve got the best damn bookstores in the country.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.