10 ways to show indie bookstores some love right now

Shop local is the rallying cry of independent retailers everywhere and buying from them is important, but it's not the only way to support your favorite indie.

new book display at bookstore for quick lit March 2020 Modern Mrs Darcy

You may have heard independent bookstores are struggling right now. These hard times are hard on small businesses everywhere, and bookstores are suffering from a confluence of issues involving the pandemic and supply line issues throughout the publishing industry.

What does that mean for you and your local indie? They sure could use your support—and this year, they could use it right now. Because they anticipate supply chain disruptions and delayed inventory shipments during the upcoming holiday season, a few weeks ago the American Booksellers Association rolled out a new slogan for this year: October is the new December.

If you shop early, that goes a long way towards easing the pressure on indies later, during the traditionally brisk period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

10 ways to show indie bookstores some love right now

Here at Modern Mrs Darcy and on What Should I Read Next, we’re updating our own editorial calendar accordingly: this year we’re publishing our gift guides earlier than we ever have before. This is why.

What if you don’t have a local independent bookstore? Most of these tips are applicable to bookstores anywhere, whether they’re right down the road from you or halfway around the world. And most of these tips apply to any small business in your community or elsewhere.

Whenever I buy books, I’m reminded of something author and devoted book-buyer Anna LeBaron said on What Should I Read Next several years ago: when you buy books, you are a patron of the arts. That sounds lofty, and she said it with a wink and a smile—though perhaps that had something to do with the fact that she said you remain a patron of the arts even if you don’t read every book you buy right away, or ever. But it’s the truth, and many readers (including myself) have taken her words to heart.

10 ways to show indie bookstores some love right now

Please note that while collective financial support is crucial for our bookstores to keep the lights on, you can support businesses you love without spending a dime, and you’ll see that reflected in the list below.

10 ways to support your favorite independent bookstores

1. Pay them a visit. Of course, we need to preface this by saying: stay safe and follow health department guidelines. But I do hope you can visit in person—and if not now, soon—because an empty bookstore is a lonely bookstore. Pop by in person, enjoy the atmosphere, pick up a book that catches your eye, tell the booksellers you’re glad they’re there.

2. Pick up a book. Independent bookstores exist to sell you books. That’s what they do best! When you spend your book-buying dollars with them, you play a small part in letting them continue doing what they do. I think it was Wendell Berry who once said that with every purchase, we vote for the work we want to see in the world. When you buy books from indies, you vote for their work to continue.

If you want to make them feel really good, grab a book from their staff picks section, or pick up a book by a local author. (Many indies stock or can get you signed copies of books by local authors. Carmichael’s Bookstore here in Louisville has signed copies of all my books; all you need to do is specify “signed copy” in order comments. The process is just as easy at many indies across the country.)

3. Follow them on social media. This is a free and easy way to show you value what they do and stay informed about what they’re up to. (Personally, I love to see social media posts about what my favorite booksellers are reading.)

It’s a big help to booksellers to “like” their posts when you see them in your feed. Because of the confounding algorithms that simple “like” goes a long way to increase their accounts’ visibility. (This isn’t just true for bookstores.)

4. Sign up for their newsletter. Show them you care, plus get all the scoop on new releases, upcoming events, and community needs, for free.

10 ways to show indie bookstores some love right now

5. Go to their events. When you attend events—whether that’s in-person (one day) or virtual—your presence signals that you value that event. Your presence at a bookstore event is always noted, and matters a great deal to stores, publishers, and authors.

It’s worth saying, especially in this unprecedented era of plentiful virtual events, that buying a book—even if just occasionally—from these events sends a strong signal to the hosts that these events matter, and are worth the resources it takes to put them on.

6. Support them with your audiobook purchases. When you choose to get your audiobooks through Libro.fm, you support the independent bookstore of your choice with every purchase. I’ve been a happy customer for years. (Click here to get started with two audiobooks for the price of one. If you need some great suggestions to get you started, click here to browse our audiobooks topical archive.)

7. Sign up for a subscription or buy a book box. Many indies feature monthly or quarterly book subscriptions, or special book boxes featuring themed selections. (Heads up: next week we’re once again launching our MMD seasonal Book Club box, in partnership with the St Louis-area indie The Novel Neighbor.)

10 ways to show indie bookstores some love right now

8. Go beyond the books. Indie bookstores carry more than a few of my favorite things: they often feature wondrously curated assortments of jigsaw puzzles, games, notecards, pens, notebooks, journals, mugs, and the list goes on! (At our last visit to my local indie, we bought a literary-themed face mask. My daughter loved wearing her new “book nerd” mask to school the next day!)

9. Plan ahead. Your indie can get you just about anything you need, if you give them time to do it. (Today I’m visiting my local indie to pick up my own special order.) This is even more important in the current economic and publishing climate.

Shipping is taking longer for some bookstores, so order early, be patient, and extend compassion to employees who have had to figure out an entire new process for doing business in a short amount of time.

10. Say thanks. Do you love your local indie? Or the indies you follow on instagram? Tell them! They’d love to hear you appreciate what they do.

What are your favorite ways to support independent bookstores and other small businesses? Please tell us in the comments section!

P.S. Along these same lines: 7 free and easy ways to support your favorite authors.

P.P.S. I love to visit independent bookstores, and took these photos on my travels. From top to bottom, they are:


Leave A Comment
  1. Cecilia says:

    One way to help any small businesses right now is to buy gift cards to use after the pandemic. It gives them an infusion of cash that they need.

  2. Lauren says:

    Loved this list, y’all! Gave my indie a follow on Insta just now and heard about weekly pop-ups they’re hosting every weekend. Didn’t even know! Sent an email asking for their newsletter sign-up link too. Thanks to all the book-loving local shops that bring reading to our communities and especially to our children. Special shout-out to Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA! 🙂

  3. Allison Smith says:

    I had no idea Libro.fm was independent bookstore-related. Thank you! I am off to join. LOVE this post so much!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Kate says:

    I’ve been spreading my love around – I’ve got 3 indie stores (so far) in my rotation, only one in my own state. I learn about a larger variety of books and authors from their newsletters, too!

  5. Kat says:

    Bookshop.org donates a portion of your purchase to local, independent book stores. To date this year = $7M!!!! Fun to browse their outstanding selection. Books arrive @ your door within days.

  6. Lauren says:

    100% to all of these. My favourite indie is Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath—was able to join a zoom book talk with Katherine Arden and Naomi Novik just last week and it was fab!

  7. Lindsay says:

    Shoutout to the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman! If you’re ever in the area (or headed to Yellowstone National Park), make sure to swing by this excellent downtown bookstore.

  8. Erin says:

    Shoutout to Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, WA, our fabulous indie bookstore and a local institution! I am hoping they will have an event with Jess Walter (author of Beautiful Ruins, lives in Spokane) for the upcoming release of his new book so I can get a signed copy!

  9. Martin says:

    http://www.lapl.org recently had 6-week online book festival in partnership with indie bookstore http://www.LA-libreria.net (which is starting “Virtual School Book Fairs”). When Michelle Obama was First Lady, she gave Award to LAPL for their wonderful community work. BTW, patrons who completed the library online challenge were entered for chance to win free book from LA-libreria–I was one of the winners!

    Also, many Friends of the Library groups may still sell books online to help fund library needs–check if your area does–or could use internet savvy volunteers to do so.

  10. angie says:

    I love this post and that book desk is AMAZING!
    When I travel for work (which I’m not doing at the moment, ahem), I try to stop by and buy a little something from at least one small/indie bookshop in every city. Thanks for the shoutouts–adding them to my must-visit list.

    Here’s a few great ones from my travels:
    1) Dickson St. Bookshop (Fayetteville, AR)
    2) Lucky Dog (Dallas, TX)
    3) The Book Lady (Savannah, GA)
    4) Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis, MN)
    5) Bookish (Fort Smith, AR)

    Also, not a bookshop, but have loved the Books & Treasures subscription (found on Cratejoy) and recommend it!

  11. Stefanie says:

    To expand a bit on the ‘pick up a book comment’… buying books is retail therapy for me. In March & April I did some heavy ordering to fill my shelves. Since then I still wanted to buy more books, support the local businesses. But my shelves are bursting (and I am in grad school so can’t keep up). I needed a creative way to buy books so I got book mail and support the local indies. I focused on those with a used book section. I will buy copies of what they have as duplicates within a certain budget. They get mailed to my house and hooray! I have book mail I can open and look at! Most of the time I have already read these books so I can talk about them to my family like they are old friends. Then the kiddo and I put them into bags and we walk around the neighborhood filling the little lending libraries. We check on them during our walks and go through the process again once all have been scooped up. It brings me so much joy. I usually budget myself to how much I might have spent preCOVID on happy hours, etc. I am very lucky to be able to do this and hope it is helping others find a good read.

  12. Julia says:

    Just today popped in to my local indie…such a great shop with excellent customer service! The Next Chapter on Farnam Hill in Omaha, NE.

  13. Mary Jane McNeill says:

    2 of my girlfriends and I just got back from a 5 day Indie Bookstore Road Trip! We traveled up one side of Georgia, went into South Carolina, and then came back down the other side of Georgia. We visited 10 indies and bought a book at each one. We had more stores on our list but ran out of time. We were surprised she. We started our research just how many indies there are! Annie from The Bookshelf was instrumental in helping us plan.

  14. Jennifer says:

    My AWESOME local indie, Changing Hands, hosted a virtual Fall Books Preview event last week, featuring their book buyer and three reps from Penguin Random House. The books they presented, along with the book banter, brought me and my husband such joy. We preordered all kinds of things we’ll be giving as gifts to our grown children and our friends, as well as books we’ll be wrapping for ourselves, with the added bonus of 20% off for the two days after the event. A few were books I probably would have never picked up, even in the store, such as Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss. My college son will LOVE it and I’ll have to borrow it from him. Indie bookstores are absolutely the best! I will continue to support them and to enjoy the creative ways they’re reaching the public during this crazy time.

  15. gm says:

    We have a new indie bookshop in town (hello, Arvida Book Co.!), and in addition to buying books there, I just special-ordered one. When I was paying for it, I suggested they put up a sign that says something like “Can’t find what you want? We can order it for you!” to let people know they can do that— it wouldn’t have occurred to me except that a friend ordered a book from them for his little boy. I’ve asked my fam to give me their holiday “something to read” orders early so I can order from Arvida. 🙂

  16. Meg says:

    One positive thing about these virtual author events is that you can explore indies from other cities. I live in Chicago where we are lucky to have numerous wonderful indies, but for a recent Chris Colfer event that my kids wanted to attend, we dialed in to Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston to watch and purchase the book. So fun to feel connected to readers all over!

  17. Rayne says:

    I shared about Libra.fm on Facebook because I know several who read exclusively audio books and a couple friends asked if there was something similar for ebooks. Does anyone here know?
    PS- I love reading all the things you’re doing to help indie stores. Such great ideas!

  18. Our libraries have re-opened for distanced pickup of books on hold, but I’m continuing to buy books from independent bookstores (my favorites are Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara, BookPeople in Austin, and Browser’s Bookstore–used and rare books, with two locations in Oregon).

    I have also been trying to find small gifts for friends with whom I don’t normally exchange gifts, and found a wonderful tote bag from MahoganyBooks (a Black-owned bookstore in Washington, DC) for a friend who is developing an African American studies program at her university. Oh, and another Black-owned shop that I’ve supported (I found it on Twitter!) is Books ‘n’ Crannies in Martinsville, VA.

  19. Meagan Ellison says:

    I really liked this post! I think right now it is a crucial time to support local shops, especially places like Indie Bookstores, since a lot of their profit is based on in store visits! I never realized that these book stores may offer services like a book box, but after reading your post I went to my local bookshop and they offer one! I am now all signed up and get books to my door every few months! Thank you for this awesome post, definitely going to be using a few of the other options you suggest to, like following social media and checking out virtual events!

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