Tomorrow, Saturday, April 24, 2021, is Independent Bookstore Day, a day to celebrate the small but mighty independent bookstore–your local source for books, events, and most importantly, community! Indie bookstores suffered terribly over the past year as lockdowns and changes in purchasing habits during the pandemic devastated their bottom lines. As an independent book publisher, fighting hard for every sale is a familiar struggle, so we ask you to join us tomorrow and show your support for your favorite local bookstore.
We are very lucky to have three independent bookstores our staff frequents (and who carry select TSB books!) in locations near our main offices in North Pomfret, Vermont. We checked in with each shop to see how they are doing and what their reopening plans are–if you are in the area, we urge you to stop by and visit these stores, and if you aren’t, please consider placing an order online!
291 Main Street, Norwich Vermont
Liza Bernard and Penny McConnel met in 1988 at a book study group. Penny was working at the Dartmouth Bookstore, then one of the oldest independent bookstores in the country. Liza was supporting herself designing and making hand woven and knit clothing, and later as an independent art consultant and graphic designer.
In the early 1990s both Penny and Liza were approaching work transitions, and imagining what might come next. Always envious of Penny’s position being surrounded by books and the people who loved them, and knowing their work styles were complementary, Liza broached the idea of opening a bookstore together.
Here we are almost 30 years, and one pandemic, later, and the Norwich Bookstore continues to be a favorite destination for families and a hot shopping spot for locals (their complimentary gift wrapping is legend!).
“Since we opened the doors on August 1, 1994, we have enjoyed bringing writers and readers of the vibrant Upper Valley community together,” says Liza, “from offering personalized recommendations to hosting internationally acclaimed author events.”
2 Carmichael Street, Essex Jct, Vermont | 191 Bank Street, Burlington, Vermont | 2 Center Street, Rutland, Vermont
With 20 years of bookstore ownership behind them (Mike and Renee owned The Book Rack and Children’s Pages in Winooski, Vermont, from 1993-2003), Mike DeSanto and Renee Reiner opened the first Phoenix Books in Essex, Vermont in 2007. With support from the community, they then opened locations in Burlington in 2012 and Rutland in 2015.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to provide books and to foster a love of reading in our communities,” says Social Media Manager/Floor Manager Katie DeSanto. “It’s why we’re here!”
12 Central Street, Woodstock, Vermont
Vermont’s oldest continuously operated independent bookshop first opened in November 1935 and has been serving Woodstock and the surrounding towns ever since. Yankee offers a terrifically curated collection of books, as well as vinyl, stationery, gifts, and awesome puzzles (I bought MANY in 2020!).
The shop’s eighth and current local owners are Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski who purchased the shop in February of 2017 with the help of the owners of Phoenix Books: Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner.
But the past year undoubtedly challenged the usual ways our independent bookstores could interact with their customers, and seeing as that interaction is such a huge part of the connection we feel as neighbors and customers, we asked our locals how they felt the events of 2020 strengthened their place in our community.
“From how-to-knit to thrilling mysteries, people are turning to books to learn and to be entertained,” says Liza Bernard from Norwich Bookstore, “so we quickly pivoted from in-store browsing to recommending books by phone, email, and via our website for pickup from the porch. We turned to zoom for author events and book discussions! While not as up-close and personal, online events have the advantage that we can easily accommodate many more in the audience–and from all over the world. And we can host authors from far away such as when Nuala O’Connor signed in from Ireland to talk about her book, Nora. The challenges have underscored how important collaborations are! We have always partnered with other organizations and forged new connections in 2020.”
“Like so many other small businesses, we had to ensure our customers and booksellers worked and shopped in a safe environment,” Phoenix’s Katie DeSanto says. “We’ve heard many times from our customers over the last year that they feel comfortable shopping with us because of the safety precautions we continue to adhere to. It’s absolutely our number one priority.
“Also, in-person events and story times have always been at the core of our business, and one of our roles in the community. That changed in March of 2020. We quickly began hosting virtual events in April 2020 (even though we were all a little camera-shy at the time) and have enjoyed it immensely since. They’re actually a lot of fun! We are grateful that our customers have embraced the online format wholeheartedly. It’s remarkable that our Events Coordinator, Michele, began her position in January of 2020 and has successfully navigated this brave new world of online author events with the grace and ease of someone who has been doing it for years!”
We asked if any specific out-of-the-box ideas helped our local indies get through 2020. Liza and Penny at Norwich Bookstore had a Porch Pop-Up Shop when weather cooperated, where they offered cards, puzzles, face masks, and sale books, even during the times when in-store shopping was unavailable. When shutdown began, Phoenix immediately mobilized one- or two-person teams in each store and focused on providing web fulfillment and curbside pickup to their communities. Puzzles and games were big for all three stores.
As small, locally owned businesses, what have we learned in the past year?
“The understanding of the importance of shopping, banking, and dining ‘local first’ has been growing and hopefully will continue as we slowly reopen,” offers Liza. “When we shop locally, we are making an investment in our own towns and villages; our family and neighbors.”
“Communities have always valued their neighborhood businesses,” adds Katie. “The pandemic highlighted how valuable small businesses are economically, socially, and culturally to neighborhoods. Every book, every meal out, every snow shovel, and every roll of paper towels matters to your local businesses. Keep shopping local, everyone!”
Norwich Bookstore, Phoenix Books, and Yankee Bookshop all carry select Trafalgar Square titles, as well as wonderfully curated collections of books from all genres. All offer online ordering and curbside pickup. And as of tomorrow, Independent Bookstore Day, all will be open for in-store browsing with protocols specific to each location in place. Please visit their websites for details regarding hours and safety protocols:
Thank you to all the independent bookstores for keeping us reading in 2020!
Trafalgar Square Books, publisher of fine equestrian and craft books, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.