How ‘Indie’ Bookstores Survived (and Thrived)

In 2012, Publishers Weekly chose E. L. James as its Person of the Year. James's Fifty Shades soft-porn trilogy was a sensation that boosted global print and e-book revenues, with at least 100 million copies sold (and counting). According to Forbes, James topped its annual list of bestselling authors with earnings of $95 million, including movie rights.

This year’s selection for PW’s Person of the Year represents a wholly different approach to the honor. It is Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, and the ABA’s board of directors, the organization that represents the country’s independent book stores. The fact that these traditional brick-and-mortar, mainly locally owned bookstores are being recognized as outstanding contributors to publishing is not merely a sympathetic gesture to old-fashioned commerce in a generally downward trajectory. The accolade is justified by results defying the odds that so heavily favor the Amazon juggernaut and the chain stores, still led by (the struggling) Barnes & Noble.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]


Today we’re celebrating independent bookstores everywhere, as part of the American Booksellers Association Indies First day. Here are a few of our favorites: Gibson’s Bookstore (Concord, NH), Bookculture (New York, NY), Greenlight Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY), Crawford Doyle Booksellers (New York, NY), McNally Jackson (New York, NY), Harvard Bookstore (Cambridge, MA).

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore? OUP staff share their top picks.

All images courtesy of OUP staff. Do not use without permission.

Because the city is in the throes of an independent-bookstore renaissance:

Between the demise of Borders in 2011 and the proliferation of e-readers, cultural trend predictors were poised to hammer nails into the printed word’s coffin. New York responded with a resounding eff-you in the form of an indie-bookseller scene that’s stronger than ever, with many ventures focused on—and sometimes funded by—the surrounding community. Just look at recent success stories, like Washington Heights’ initially temporary, volunteer-run Word Up, which became so popular that the store is reopening for good this spring on the strength of donations. LGBT-focused pop-up the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division recently announced an indefinite partnership with Strange Loop Gallery, and operates out of that space. Dumbo’s powerHouse Arena recently opened an outpost in Park Slope, and Greenpoint’s WORD is expanding to a second spot, in Jersey City. Plus, many shops—including Fort Greene’s Greenlight Bookstore, McNally Jackson and Housing Works in Soho, and Boerum Hill’s BookCourt—have thrived thanks to author readings, book clubs and lit-themed parties that bring book fiends together. Long story short: NYC is a bibliophile’s dream town.

I don’t recall exactly which sky-is-falling installment of the 2008 economic meltdown was in the news on a day when I was working at a nonprofit job that entailed dealing with the children of reall…

Hooray for indie bookstores!

unabridgedbookstore, openbookstore literatibookstore politicsprose malapropsbookstore avidbookshop bookcellar citylit-books northshire unchartedbooks seminarycoop

We love a challenge. You only remember that the book was probably non-fiction and might have had a stamp on the cover and had a really great NPR review? We will use arcane bookseller practices and/or the contents of our colleagues’ brains (and possibly Google) to hunt down the title for you. It is the bookseller version of a quest and leaves us quite satisfied at the end. Never feel bad about sending anyone on a quest. Especially a bookseller.

Exploring Five of Toronto's Best Bookshops!

Be Warned: This post is long, but contains lots of pictures about bookstores in Toronto! 

I had a very fun and memorable adventure yesterday. If you know anything about me, then you know that I am absolutely in love with the idea of adventure (especially when said adventure has me encountering many book stores!) 

Along with my good friend and co-worker, Yasmine (who runs yasminereads), I explored a handful of book stores that promised us a wonderful day. We decided to check out both used and indie shops with a goal in mind of buying at least one book from each shop. 

A lot of photos were taken and a pretty nicely sized haul was our prize!


1. Mabel’s Fables

Where is it? 662 Mt. Pleasant Road

What is it? Independent Children’s Book Shop 

Mabel’s Fables is a gorgeous little book store slightly hidden near a suburban and old-school neighbourhood in Toronto. Unlike downtown, this was a very quiet zone that allowed for readers to escape into a world of books. 

This was a store with heart and though we hadn’t even entered yet, this cute little robot statue greeted us. We knew this would be something special. 

Mabel’s Fables is a store that caters mainly to younger readers (New Borns-teens), and this is pretty evident when you step into the shop. There are colourful displays of toys, books, and intriguing posters on the walls. (In the picture: yasminereads)

Each section (age group) was marked by lamps like the one in the picture with the age written in marker on the lampshade. 

The atmosphere was so calm and quiet that it allowed for us to search through the shelves in peace. Above, you can see that just about anyone could come into the store and browse, despite the age groups featured. 

But the above pictures only showcase the first floor. This place was surprisingly large! The second floor catered to the older readers (middle grade-young adult). This was where Yasmine and I got really excited. 

These were only a few of the posters on the walls as we climb the stairs to the second floor. 

The view from above was just as impressive. This alcove showcased the only general fiction/nonfiction in the store, remaining true to its theme of being a mainly children’s bookstore. 

The upper level of the store had enough books to make you curious and want to see everything, but not so much that you would feel overwhelmed. They carried books at the exact same price you would find at a corporate store, so the myth of overpriced indie stores didn’t work with this Independent bookstore. 

I ended up only getting one book because I knew I’d be visiting other stores during my visit to Toronto, but this was definitely the most memorable Indie store of the day!

I got one book, a free bookmark/map, a Mabel’s Fables bookmark, two buttons, and a Mabel’s Fables tote!

BONUS PIC: Check out this house we spotted by Mabel’s Fables! 


2. Eliot’s Bookshop

Where is it? Near Yonge & Wellesley

What is it? Secondhand Bookshop

Eliot’s Bookshop was one of those bookstores that Yasmine and I had to look for closely, simply because it was hidden between two other buildings. But don’t let the facade trick you: this place is huge! 

Though the building isn’t wide, it is very long, giving the aisles in this picture the appearance of being near-endless. The effect in person was amazing. 

The stairs leading up to the second floor (of THREE LEVELS!) were decorated with books, recreating a popular visual expectation that readers often have when they enter a used bookstore. 

The second floor was another large space with shelves full of books, and even one of those rolling ladders that Beauty had in her library. If this was our one and only destination in our day trip, then Yasmine and I could have easily stayed here for hours. 

The store was beautiful because it was full of old books, it was quiet, and it had that particular smell that only older books could ever really have. Overall, this was a pretty good place to check out. By the way, this picture was taken on the third floor, which was mainly non-fiction books. 

Other than the fact that we had to leave our totes at the cash desk (so as to avoid thefts, the owner asks all customers to leave bags at the cash), this was a pretty awesome store.

I almost left with empty hands, but I found one book and three comics from 1988 just before calling it quits. 


3. Glad Day Bookshop

Where is it? 598A Yonge Street

What is it? Independent LGBTQ Bookshop

Glad Day Bookshop is the first LGBTQ bookstore I’ve ever been to and I have to say, it was a great experience! It is also a bit hidden, so we almost walked right past it–so, if you want to check it out, remember to keep an eye out!

Glad Day is located on a second floor, giving it a slight air of mystery and privacy. 

This was actually the smallest of the bookstores we visited. The effect was very cozy, especially since the employee on shift was pretty easy to find in case we had any questions.

Despite its size, the selection was surprisingly large! We had a great time exploring something new and different. 

I bought a book that I’ve been wanting for a long time and got one bookmark from the employee on shift!


4. BMV Books

Where is it? Yonge Street

What is it? Secondhand Book/Comic/DVD/Music/Magazine Shop

BMV Books is a Toronto classic. I didn’t take pictures of the store inside because I feel like I’ve taken so many pictures before. To be honest, however, I was a bit too distracted by everything inside…sorry! 

There are a ton of graphic novels, used books, and so much more inside of this big store. 

Okay, fun story time! Yasmine and I recently saw a trailer for Horns, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and was written by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, a few years ago. You can find the trailer here and the teaser (my favourite of the two) here. Anyway, we wanted to get the book and had been looking all day for it. Then when we were in BMV Books, I found the book and nearly scared the crap out of an older man who was standing in front of the books because of how excited I was. I had found two copies. TWO, NOT ONE. It was like a sign that we were meant to own and read this book! So, yeah, we bought it…for $3.99! 

Anywho, I also ended up finding lots of other cool things! Here’s my haul: 


5. Silver Snail 

Where is it? Yonge Street

What is it? A Specialty Independent Comic Shop 

Whereas Mabel’s Fables was awesome in its dedication to young reader books, the Silver Snail was an awesome ode to comics. The entrance itself hints at what you’re bound to find inside. 

One of the first things visitors might see is the life-size Spiderman hanging from the ceiling over the stairs leading up to the shop. It’s hung in such a way that if you don’t look up, you just might miss it. 

In fact, there are hidden figures everywhere. I apologize for the less than great picture, but if you look carefully on the left hand side (near the corner of the above picture) you can see a very shadowy Gollum, which Yasmine noticed before we left. Also, there’s a coffee shop with superhero lattes!

The store was very busy, so I couldn’t get a lot of pictures, but if you’re a huge fan of comics and super heroes (among other fandoms), then I recommend that you stop by this gem while you’re in Toronto. There are so many selections and a lot of collector’s items.

I ended up walking away with a new graphic novel that I’ve been searching for, and two Archie comics. I would have purchased more, but by that time my funds were already seriously depleted.


After a great late lunch at Korean BBQ, Yasmine and I bid adieu to Toronto and returned home. Overall, it was a great day and though it started with some rain, the day quickly turned sunny. 

I hope to do something like this again soon and hopefully in the future, I will one day explore bookshops from around the world!

Happy reading!

When you buy books, I encourage you to buy them from independent bookstores. Yes, amazon may be cheaper, but indie bookstores are more than warehouses of books. Indie booksellers read voraciously, have expert recommendations for readers, and organize author events. Independent bookstores build literary communities and by shopping locally, you support your community with your tax dollars. You can even buy e-books from your local indie. And a lot of independent bookstores have membership programs so you can get discounts. Here’s a map of independent bookstores across America. I’ve shopped in a lot of them. You can also shop online at independent bookstores. If you don’t have an indie near you, try Powell’s.