Last night I was privileged to attend a book signing for Snowbird Christmas, organized by the fabulous Nancy Quatrano. Read (Think) Books is an independent book store in Palatka. The owner is personable, smart and kind. The clientele are generous, open and welcoming. Palatka itself is much the same, with an historical patina that makes you want to settle down by the proverbial fire and listen to stories of her past. Needless to say, I had a great time. But it got me thinking about the differences between the big stores (B&N comes to mind, my personal favorite) and the independents.
1) Independents have cats. In this case a beautiful, very polite tortoise shell.
2) The scent is different. Big stores can smell a bit antiseptic, though not necessarily in a bad way, while independents very definitely smell of books…and sometimes coffee, tea, or hot cocoa, in a very good way.
3) Personality: independents each have their own – big stores all have the same one. Its called branding and, as the goal in this day and age is to be as inoffensive as possible to as many people groups as possible, it usually equals “bland.” The personality of an independent bookstore is largely dependent on that of the owner and is as varied and lively as the owners themselves.
4) Atmosphere: Big stores usually feel like, well – a store, not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing, nonetheless. Independents can have a library or museum type atmosphere, or sport more of coffee shop ambiance OR, my personal favorite, feel a great deal like the living room of a close friend. There is something for everyone.
5) Community: I’m not saying big stores don’t contribute. They do. Any number of big stores give back via charities and foundations and I applaud their efforts. However, the community contribution of an independent, though perhaps smaller monetarily, is likely to be more personal and tailored to the community in which they live. Like any small business, they have a personal interest in their community and it tends to show in their actions.