Independent bookstores have always been there for me, whether I’m busy or not.
When the first lockdown started, I was one of the lucky people who could stay home and did so for over two months. My biggest work and personal commitments stopped virtually overnight and, like for everyone else, that sudden shift was bizarre and difficult to get used to. After the initial depression lessened, though, I felt that familiar itch to buy books again. I was also in a lucky position where I had saved money from not going out and about. We were encouraged to shop locally to keep our economy going and to keep our favourite shops in business.
With so many restaurants and other businesses shutting down left and right, I grew alarmed at the prospect of some of my most frequented indie bookstores closing their doors for good! Fortunately, the bookstores were great at pivoting to customers’ needs, and they met them in spades, from offering curbside pickup to employees riding around the city on their bikes to deliver them. Lockdown had also provided an unexpected side benefit. When folks weren’t reading, they were doing jigsaw puzzles. I did too, and marathoned my way through Law & Order while doing so. It filled the days perfectly. My indies were smart enough to stockpile them, and it was wonderful to browse their selections online, order a puzzle, complete it, and then (by mail or by distance) swap with a friend.
One fine spring day, my partner and I made the trek on foot to downtown to pick up some books and magazines curbside. It felt amazing to be there, and it was so great to see how busy they were despite everything else being shut down.
Fast-forward a year later, and I’m back to work, albeit not full-time. I’ve also started a freelance business, and COVID cases have (until this week) remained fairly consistently low. I have less time for reading, but I always find time for book buying! I’ve been able to visit my bookstores in person again, and have continued to spend probably a little too much money there. But I know it can make the difference between them having a great or not-so-great sales month, and that makes it more than worthwhile.
It was Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday, and starting last week, our city is at another near-total shutdown for the next four weeks due to an uptick in cases. Between that and a full day of zoom meetings, I was unable to go visit my indies in person on their collective birthday. But I preordered some forthcoming summer titles from each of them. I didn’t have to contribute to their lines by coming in on what’s sure was still a busy day for them, I have some new arrivals to look forward to in a couple months (by which point I hope to pick them up in person safely), and I get to support those bookshops now, when they still need it to keep going.
I hope that next year there’ll be a big (in-person) hubbub surrounding Independent Bookstore Day, filled with events and lots of enthusiastic bookstore patrons like myself celebrating the day. But for now, I’ll be doing my best to cheer them on from home. What I love most about indies is their commitment to bringing the joy of books to their communities, and again, independent bookstores have always been there for me, whether I’m busy or not. I have faith that this will remain so.
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