Independent booksellers have grown in number and diversity in 2021

NEW YORK – Laura Romani, a Chicago area resident with a background in education and librarianship, had been thinking about a new career.

“A couple of years ago I was at home reflecting on all the experience I had gained and how I wanted to contribute to the Latino community, while allowing me to be alone and enjoy my love of books and my passion for multilingualism. she said.

The solution: open a library. With the help of a local grant and stimulus checks she and her husband received during the pandemic, Romani launched Los Amigos Books, initially as an online store last year and now with a small physical store with a bright blue facade in Berwyn, Illinois. Focuses on children’s stories in English and Spanish.

“Everything goes hand in hand,” Romani says of his decision.

Stores like Romani’s have contributed to a year of solid growth and greater diversity for the American Booksellers Association, the business group of independent bookstore owners. According to CEO Allison Hill, the association now has 2,010 members, at 2,547 locations, an increase of more than 300 since the spring of 2021. It is the highest ABA total in years, although the association in 2020 has hardened its membership. its rules and only allowed stores that “mostly sell books” (more than 50 percent of the inventory), as opposed to any store that offers books.The ABA no longer counts sellers whose subscriptions are inactive.


Hill attributes part of the increase to homeowners who delayed the renewal of their memberships in early 2021, reflecting uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic. But a substantial number of incorporations, more than 100, are stores that opened last year, dozens of them owned by people from a wider variety of racial and ethnic groups. These stores range from Libelula Books & Co. in San Diego to Yu and Me Books in Chinatown, New York, from Modern Tribe Bookshop in Killeen, Texas, to Socialight Society in Lansing, Michigan.

The ABA, which has long been predominantly white, established a diversity and inclusion committee last year after council chairman Jamie Fiocco acknowledged in June 2020 – following the assassination of George Floyd – that the association had failed to do so. enough to “defeat the barriers to membership and service for Blacks, Indians, and color.”


“The increase in BIPOC stores is a big change for us,” Hill says.

Like Romani, many new owners had previous races, or still have them on their side. Sonyah Spencer is working as a consultant to help fund The Urban Reader in Charlotte, North Carolina, an African-American bookstore that has opened in part due to the Black Lives Matters movement and its concern about increasing book bans. In Locust Grove, Georgia, Erica Atkins was a college professor and trainer who, while recovering from surgery, had a divine view, according to her, that she should open a store, which is now Birdsong Books.

“I’ve dedicated my life to sharing knowledge,” she says. “Every time I’m having a conversation with someone, I’m giving book recommendations.”

In Ossining, New York, Amy Hall is vice president of Eileen Fisher who says her work on fashion inspired her to open Hudson Valley Books for Humanity. She was looking at her bookshelves and began to think about how sustainability could be applied to the clothes she reads. He decided to create a store that would offer mainly used books and otherwise reflect the economic and ethnic diversity of Ossining.


“I wanted to build a bookstore that would accommodate people from all these different segments of our community,” he said. The new books he keeps in stock focus on social justice and the environment, among other issues.

After initial concerns that the pandemic would devastate book sales, publishers have seen strong profits over the past two years and independent sellers have endured. Hill and others feared that hundreds of member stores could close in 2020. By contrast, about 80 closed and only 41 stopped operating in 2021.

Selling books independently is a tough business, but rarely safe. For decades it has been a history of facing obstacles, whether it was the rise of Barnes & Noble’s “supermarkets” in the 1990s that helped thousands of ABA members get out of business, the growing power of Amazon.com, or such recent problems. such as the supply chain. arrears and price inflation.


Spencer of the Urban Bookstore says higher costs, especially rental and shipping, have made it difficult for him to strike a balance. Atkins of Birdsong Books noticed a big jump in Bible prices, bringing the price of a King James edition up several dollars. At Changing Hands bookstores in Arizona, buyer Miranda Myers noticed several price changes, including Emily St.’s “Sea of ​​Tranquility.” John Mandel, one of the major literary releases of the spring, and Rachel Smythe’s upcoming book Lore Olympus.

Myers said he was “definitely noticing that these price increases have been happening more and more lately.” At the same time, according to Changing Hands owner Gayle Shanks, “sales have improved a lot. We’ve had the best first quarter we’ve ever had. Store history and this second quarter is also following. ”.

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Independent booksellers have grown in number and diversity in 2021

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