When I moved back to Dallas from Brooklyn in 2018, I needed to make friends. Desperately. I had managed to find one friend, an absolute doll of a woman named Lauren—but one person does not a social life make. It turns out I had no clue how to make friends as an adult in the midst of major life changes.
Lauren (again, an angel) suggested going to events at The Wild Detectives, an independent bookstore/bar in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood near downtown Dallas. The bookstore is a converted home, and for a few years, it felt like a second home for me. So in honor of these community-first spaces, I implore you all to come celebrate Independent Bookstore Day with me on Saturday. It’s another made-up holiday that celebrates a thing we all love, like doughnuts or the first Monday in May, and it’s a great excuse to go buy a fucking book.
After two years of being subjected to yo-yo-ing pandemic guidelines by state and federal governments, independent bookstores are finally emerging from the worst retail setbacks of the pandemic. At The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore in Los Angeles, for instance, the bookclubs were the last thing to go when covid altered the country in 2020, owner Leah Koch told Jezebel. But bookclubs were also the first thing to come back. “Immediately, there were so many people there because they were so desperate to get out of their house,” she said.
The romance bookstore also restarted its in-person comedy nights, with Koch checking vaccine cards to be safe. “It was sold out a week beforehand,” she said. “Literally every single person was like, ‘I’m so happy to be back,’ or ‘It’s so nice to be here.’”
The pandemic hit retailers hard in 2020, but 2021 saw some gains for booksellers. “I think our community was so invested in making sure we survived,” Koch said. “We tap into the global romance community in addition to our neighborhood where we are. People around the literal world feel really invested and connected to our shop.”
Gary Lovely, manager of the Prologue Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio, said the pandemic demonstrated how important it is for a retail bookstore to invest in its community. “A lot part of our customer base is LGBTQIA+ and we serve a lot of professors and students, too,” he told me. “We carry a lot literary fiction and nonfiction as well as books about activism.”
The small shop has been open since 2018, with dreams of helping beyond its small retail footprint. “Something that’s important to Prologue is that we’re interested in a bookstore as a place for community to gather and help each other,” Lovely said.
Because of the community support, the shop was able to continue its mutual aid efforts during the pandemic. Last month, Prologue Bookshop raised more than 1,100 pounds of donated books for the nonprofit organization, The Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP), which sends free books to incarcerated people in Appalachia.
Bookstores are at their best when invested in projects and events like these. When the retail stores are also places to gather for our bookclubs and our conversations with friends, they gift us with new communities. I hope you get to spend some time in a local bookstore this weekend, or at least curled up with a good book that brings you some joy.