Miserable & Magical: You can never have too many (local) bookstores

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As I’ve documented in this column over the past 10 months, I love books. My world would be vastly different if I didn’t read. I just wouldn’t be me.

People have always told me that print is dying. They’ve said it when I worked as a reporter, they’ve said it when I’ve said I want to write books, and they’ve said it when I’ve talked of my dreams of opening a bookstore one day. I’ve seen all the nervous smiles and heard all the half-hearted wishes of good luck.

I’ve never really felt this fear of print dying. It just doesn’t feel possible. Societies need books. And people will always write, so how could there ever be a shortage of things to print?

Unfortunately, people don’t spend their money in ways that support these ideas. For the past few weeks, I’ve seen bookstores posting online about the decline of sales this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been asking people to please shop at their stores instead of at corporations like Amazon. 

These posts have been breaking my heart, but the panic really set in when The New York Times wrote about it. The Oct. 15 article, “Your Local Bookstore Wants You to Know That It’s Struggling,” reported that at least one independent bookstore has closed each week in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. And the ones that are still in business are seeing significantly lower sales.

Thank God no bookstores in Portland have closed, but I’m terrified one or more could. This city needs bookstores. Despite what all the giant condo developments on the peninsula may suggest, this is a city full of artists and activists who like to support local businesses when we can. Bookstores are oases for me and for a lot of people I know.

Bookstores are safe places where everyone is welcome. Even if you don’t consider yourself a reader, you’re still welcome. Bookstores don’t judge or discriminate. Do you know how many times I’ve gone into bookstores just because I’m feeling stressed or sad and need to feel better? Bookstores always help. Browsing the shelves, flipping through pages, seeing what’s new never fails to calm me.

We can’t afford to lose a single one of Portland’s bookstores. Each one offers something different.

Sherman’s is right smack in the middle of the Old Port and offers a good selection of books and gifts. Longfellow Books has the perfect combination of new and used books, plus the best magazine selection in the city. Print: A Bookstore has probably the best book selection and hosts events and author talks with high-profile writers. And on Congress Street, there are used booksellers Yes Books and Green Hand Bookstore, which always feel like a treasure hunt to me.

Actually, I think this city needs even more bookstores. There’s only one – Letterpress Books – off the peninsula, which isn’t nearly enough. As I said, I even want to open my own one day. Earlier this year I was seriously considering doing it sooner rather than later, but obviously, that’s not the most practical thing right now. 

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We need to make sure our current bookstores stay in business. Put this up there with voting. Send in your ballot and then go buy a book or seven. If you don’t know what to get someone for their birthday or the holidays, buy them a book. My Christmas list every year is just books. (Yes, I’m 28 and still give my mom a Christmas list, but she asks for one. I swear.)

So, please, I’m begging you: support our local bookstores. Amazon already gets enough business. They’ll be fine without you. It may be a little more expensive to shop locally, which I know is hard to do during the pandemic, but if we don’t support these businesses now, they may not come out the other side.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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