Independent bookstores – shop small

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.

Local, independently owned shops are the heart of a community, and local, independent bookstores are its lifeblood. It’s a place to check in, catch up; to see what’s new, to waste time, or to get lost…and to buy books. The Shop Small Business Saturday that’s just passed was an excellent reminder of all we have.Indys-first

There are fads and pendulum swings, and fortunately, people seem to be rediscovering the pleasures and importance of independent, owner-operated stores, and that rarest of qualities—connection.

Growing up, I don’t think I considered the difference between independent and chain stores generally in any depth, beyond a vague sense that non-corporate shops seemed to have better quality and more focused (sometimes idiosyncratic) choices. And in small, local bookshops, I found a confluence of what I liked most about reading: like libraries, they had a fairly broad selection, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff—and yet they had books I could own. In those indy bookstores—then and now—you’re likely to get staff recommendations, find something quirky you may not have heard about. Your purchases are liable to elicit discussion (and follow-up reading!) when you’re checking out.

HempelYears ago (1985 or ’86), I ordered a copy of Amy Hempel’s short story collection Reasons to Live at my then-local bookshop, the University Bookstore because I’d read her short story “Going” in Vanity Fair, and I wanted to read more. When I went to collect the book, the woman at the pick up desk told me she’d glanced through my copy, been intrigued and ordered one for herself. Our paths crossed a month or so later, and we talked again about it and other books. I’d see her every so often, and she’d ask what else I was reading.

When I moved to a different part of town, I missed going to that bookshop, but fortunately I found another, a new-and-used bookstore called A Different Drummer (now gone). Though I was probably in the shop once a week, every 4-5 months I would bring in a box of paperbacks, get store credit and “buy” another 3 or 4 books with the credit, recommencing the process. It happened more than once that I would stop in and the owner would grab a book from behind the counter that he’d been holding for me, not because I’d ordered it, but because he knew my tastes and thought it was something I’d enjoy. He was often right.

Now I live in Philadelphia, and I’m spoiled for choice. There’s an excellent bookstore 5 blocks from our house (Headhouse Books), a fabulous, funky new-and-used bookstore 4 blocks beyond that, up from Headhouse on Bainbridge Street (Mostly Books). Just around the corner, Philly AIDS Thrift’s second floor has a mind-boggling used book selection. Further south, in the 9th Street Market, Molly’s Books & Records has some exquisite gems. West Philly has the fabulous Penn Book Center. And there are many, many more.

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.


James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, is coming soon.


Find them through  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.


If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.