Big box bookstores did a number on small independents, and then online vendors took a toll on the big boxes. University Book Store in Madison sells mostly Badger sportwear and gift items, plus textbooks and school supplies. The clerk told me people who want a book for pleasure or self-education shop online.
The period from the middle 1990s to 2009 saw a 40 percent drop in the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. Now they’re making a comeback, with new stores opening and sales growing 7.5 percent compounded over the past five years. Online giants may be a quick, cheap source for a specific book, but walk into an indie to discover one you never heard of, get tips from knowledgeable booksellers, and bump into book-loving neighbors.
Parnassus Books co-owner and bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Dutch House) attributes her Nashville indie’s success in large part to author appearances, community loyalty, and five shop dogs who help customers feel at home.
Thanks to the Sisters in Crime December newsletter for these sources.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.