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Indie bookstores weather the coronavirus crisis

With many shops forced to close nationwide, here's how to support independent bookstores during the coronavirus crisis.
Published: April 2, 2020 | Updated: April 3rd, 2020 at 1:33 pm


With the threat of COVID-19 forcing everyone indoors, there’s no better time to catch up on your reading — and help the nation’s approximately 2,321 independent bookstores at the same time. Many of them must find new ways to survive the pandemic. Originally set for April 25, Independent Bookstore Day is now scheduled for August 29. In the meantime, many outlets are offering creative ways to engage the public and stay afloat. One is to donate to BINC (Book Industry Charitable Foundation), which provides a wide range of services to booksellers and their employees. Another is to buy from BookShop, a site that gives indie booksellers, which can be too under-staffed to have a robust online delivery operation, a way to sell their books online. It returns over twice as much money to booksellers from sales (10 percent) as Amazon does (4.5 percent) and offers other support, including, as reported by InsideHook, raising over $270,000 for local bookstores since February. When this story was written, all of the independent bookstores listed below were closed until further notice and many had laid off at least some, if not most, of their employees. Here’s how some of the stores are responding.

The Northeast

Books End Bookshop Syracuse

For nearly 35 years, this store has been a part of the Syracuse community. During this time, they will keep adding books to their inventory. The store says that orders on the website will be “processed and shipped as the situation warrants.”

The Brattle Book Shop Boston

Established in 1825, The Brattle Book Shop is one of America’s oldest and largest used bookshops. They are available by phone and email during business hours. To help support The Brattle, listen to their podcast “Brattlecast” on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

The Strand Bookstore New York City

This bookshop, whose motto is “18 miles of books,” has been a New York City landmark since 1927. To help the Strand, sign up for The Book Hookup, the store’s home delivery of a signed, first edition book. Also, join their newly introduced The Stranded Book Club, where people join a collective reading of a classic and chat about it on Instagram and Goodreads.

The Strand Bookstore in New York, N.Y.
The Strand Bookstore in New York

The Pacific Northwest and California

City Lights San Francisco

The legendary City Books, co-founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and made famous by the Beats, is now closed for “an indefinite period.” All scheduled events through at least the end of April are canceled, but they’re hoping to reschedule them later this year. “While so much in our world is changing, we remain convinced of the power of books to inform and inspire,” says a message on their website. Help City Lights by supporting their non-profit City Lights Foundation.

Elliot Bay Book Company Seattle

This family-owned Seattle staple will fill online and phone orders. To help support Elliot Bay Book Company, become a part of the Maiden Voyage First Edition Program, which introduces you to some of the best new authors.

Powell’s Books Portland

Weeks ago, the situation at Powell’s seemed dire. According to a letter from CEO Emily Powell sent to employees, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest independent bookstore” has “closed off the vast majority of our business without any prospect of it returning soon.” Since then, things have improved. Powell wrote an update on March 27 saying the bookstore now had 100 employees working again. Help them keep it up by ordering online (free shipping on orders of $25 or more) and subscribing to one of their book clubs.

Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, W.A.
Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle

The Southwest

BookPeople Austin

The Lone Star State’s largest independent bookstore is taking online orders. They’ve created curated lists on their website to help people select books to order.

Bookworks Albuquerque

Through April 8, Bookworks is offering free shipping on orders of at least $40 with the code FREESHIP40. You can also sign up to receive emails with book suggestions for all ages, as well as games and puzzles.

Tattered Cover Bookstore Denver

Established in 1971, Tattered Cover Bookstore is offering free shipping on orders over $10. The store’s website features livestreams with authors and offers for audiobooks and ways to support the store.

Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, C.O.
Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver

The Midwest

Prairie Lights Iowa City

Prairie Lights has been serving Iowa City for 42 years. It is offering phone and online orders for curbside pick-up and, for those who are homebound, free area delivery with special arrangement. For those outside the Iowa City/Coralville area, the store will ship for free with orders of $50 or more. If it’s a gift, they will even wrap the books for you.

Rainy Day Books Kansas City

An independent bookstore in Kansas City for 45 years, Rainy Day Books is shipping orders by phone, email, and online. For orders under $75, there is a reduced $5 USPS Priority Mail Charge and for orders above $75, there is no shipping fee. You can also order special author autographed books to help support the store.

Women & Children First Chicago

Women & Children First is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the United States. Its online store is shipping orders. To support the bookstore’s program series devoted to women’s issues, contribute to the Women’s Voices Fund.

Prairie Lights in Iowa City
Prairie Lights in Iowa City

The South

Parnassus Books Nashville

Co-owned by novelist Ann Patchett and her business partner Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books has been a part of Nashville’s community since 2011. They offer online shipping and you can sign up for Parnassus Signed First Editions Club to receive by mail a store-selected new first edition, signed by the author.

Politics and Prose Washington D.C.

Arguably D.C.’s premier bookstore-related cultural hub, Politics and Prose is offering free shipping on phone and online domestic orders. Booksellers will make book recommendations over the phone. Politics and Prose Live will livestream some previously scheduled author talks. The store suggests supporting Free Minds Book Club and/or donating to Binc. Another way to help support P&P is to become a member.

Square Books Oxford, Mississippi

Operating in three historic buildings in Oxford, Square Books has been around since 1971. They’re filling online and phone orders for curbside pick-up and free local delivery. Check out their upcoming livestreamed events and join their Signed Firsts Club.

Alternative Text
Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

Fermata: Arts & Culture in the Time of Coronavirus
This article is part of the Fermata: Arts and Culture in the Time of Coronavirus series reported by students in the Critical Writing course at the Newhouse School. In the coming days, Fermata will feature stories on the impact of the pandemic on a wide range of artists and cultural figures, from musicians and comedians to restaurateurs and boutique owners.

Avatar for Emily Kelly

is a contributor to The NewsHouse and editor-in-chief of 20 Watts Magazine.