Alta Live: Indie Bookstores: What Does It Take to Survive?

Indie bookselling experts from the American Booksellers Association, Green Apple Books, and Space Cowboy Books explain what it takes for our favorite independent bookstores to survive.

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This week’s Alta Live featured a lineup of independent-bookstore experts from different corners of the business who shared with us how and why indie booksellers continue to thrive in the age of two massive threats: COVID and Amazon. Pre-pandemic, the local bookstore was on the rise, Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said, but “by June 2020, when we surveyed stores, it looked like 20 percent of them might close by the end of the year. That’s how precarious this model is.” Stores that have survived into 2022—including Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree and Green Apple Books in San Francisco—rely on creative events, curated niches, and community support, in addition to traditional book sales. “We are so lucky to have a deeply loyal community,” Kar Johnson of Green Apple Books said. “We’ve been around since 1967, and we’re a San Francisco Legacy Business, which not a lot of bookstores get to say, so we’re really blessed.”

After his supply of tourist customers dried up during lockdown, Jean-Paul L. Garnier turned to events to keep Space Cowboy Books running. “If anything, the pandemic caused me to step up the community engagement.… Anything we can do to help up-and-coming authors,” he said. “Without books, there is no bookstore.”

“Independent bookstores are known for being resilient and innovative and creative,” Hill said. “We’ve seen it all along. It’s the history of the industry.”

Check out these links to some of the topics Hill, Johnson, Garnier, and Spotswood brought up this week.

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