Portland has Powell's. San Francisco has City Lights. Los Angeles has Book Soup. Independent bookstores occupy a special place in communities across the country. And this Saturday in California, they are being celebrated with the very first California Bookstore Day.
At Green Apple Books on Clement Street in San Francisco, shopper Patty Murphy holds a new copy of "Season of the Witch," a book about the history of the city.
“Two books I'm looking for I know are available online,” says Murphy. “But I wanted to check here first to see if I can buy them here before I buy them online. There's something about touching a book before you buy it.”
Green Apple is the kind of store where curious readers can get lost wandering the aisles. Co-owner Pete Mulvihill says it's not the way you'd design a store from scratch.
“Scotch-taped signs everywhere, and nothing matches,” says Mulvihill. “On the other hand, it's beautiful to some people, as are the books physically themselves. People really do care about the look and feel and smell of a book.”
California Bookstore Day was Mulvihill's idea, and like the record-shop industry’s Record Store Day, they'll have limited editions of books, along with art pieces and a fun literary map of the state.
“At the simplest level the goal is to drive real people into real bookstores to buy real books,” says Mulvihill. “So we do hope that stores experience a sales bump.”
The California Bookstore Day box set "California Classics" contains works by Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard and Armistead Maupin.
The digital age has not been kind to publishing. E-books and online sellers like Amazon have taken a huge chunk out of bookstore sales. Some giant retailers like Borders are gone, and independents have struggled, too. But, Mulvihill says, small bookstores are enjoying something of a renaissance.
Throughout California, local writers, artists and illustrators are pitching in to make this first Bookstore Day a hit. San Francisco author Dave Eggers made a spectacular debut with his book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." He says independent bookstores make a vital connection between readers and writers.
“I go into bookstores all the time thinking, ‘I've got a niece, I've got a cousin. She just finished all the Harry Potters, where does she go next?’ ” says Eggers. “And the bookseller will say, I mean they'll talk your ear off. They'll talk for the next 20 minutes about if she likes this, if she likes that. You're not going to get that advice anywhere else and that expertise.”
His literary venture, McSweeney's, is a vital outlet for emerging and established writers alike.
On Saturday, Eggers will join the celebration at Green Apple, offering free relationship advice and surely signing a few books, too.
Author Daniel Handler, better known by his pen name Lemony Snicket, says the best independent bookstores are reflections of their own city or town.
“It’s the sea salt of culture,” says Handler. “There's not a community in the world that can't be improved by the addition of an independent bookstore."