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Local bookstores celebrate Independent Bookstore Day

Books+and+Mortar+in+Grand+Rapids+sits+on+Cherry+St.+off+Lake+Drive+in+East+Town.+Photo+courtesy+librarythings.com.
Books and Mortar in Grand Rapids sits on Cherry St. off Lake Drive in East Town. Photo courtesy librarythings.com.

Books and Mortar in Grand Rapids sits on Cherry St. off Lake Drive in East Town. Photo courtesy librarythings.com.

Books and Mortar in Grand Rapids sits on Cherry St. off Lake Drive in East Town. Photo courtesy librarythings.com.

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All across the country, independent bookstores hosted celebrations on the last Saturday of April on Independent Bookstore Day, including live music, door prizes, readings and refreshments.

Here in Grand Rapids, two bookstores held festivities last Saturday: Schuler’s Books and Music and Books and Mortar.

The day is coordinated and produced by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. Publishers produce exclusive items available for sale only on April 29.

This year there were 13 exclusive art pieces and books for sale. Some of the featured items included Literary Tea Towels, “Child of Books” fine art print and A Literary Map of the U.S.

In previous years, there were items from well-known authors Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Lemony Snicket.

Independent Bookstore Day started in California in 2014 after being inspired by the success of National Record Day, which began seven years earlier. The national event’s purpose is to support local bookstores.

“Bookstores are crucial to readers and writers. Indie bookstores typically know the books and has a greater variety of titles that big box stores don’t have,” said English professor Don Hettinga.

Independent Bookstore Day is a day to acknowledge the importance of independent bookstores in the community. Indie bookstores understand the community’s preferences while corporate bookstores focus on the mass market.

“Independent bookstores really have an ear to the ground in the local community, whereas corporate bookstores have a set standard of what they sell and less flexibility,” said Books and Mortar owner Chris Roe.

Independent bookstores tailor to the city’s specific interests, in contrast with corporate bookstores that “try to control what publishers publish and demand fees for displaying certain titles prominently,” said Hettinga.

Books and Mortar provides a selection of books on “city issues and general interests. Poetry and art are really popular in Grand Rapids, same with books about housing justice,” said Roe.

“Money spent in local business does a lot of good in the community whereas in a big box store it goes elsewhere,” said Hettinga. Independent bookstores “help build community with book clubs and support for local writers.”

Books and Mortar has been doing just that since their opening in October. They launched a book club, a loyalty rewards program, and an indie passport program which involves getting the passport stamped at local businesses and then bringing it back to Books and Mortar to be entered in a drawing for a $50 gift card.

“It’s also meaningful because it’s our first year … Grand Rapids has been so generous to us and we wanted to give back to the community,” said Roe.  

Carolyn Muyskens contributed reporting to this story.

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