More on indie bookstores

Further to comments written in response to another story here at LISNews ,here's an article written by David Unowsky, owner of the recently closed Hungry Mind/Ruminator Bookstore in St. Paul, MN. The article might give book buyers some perspective on the current struggles of independent booksellers, and why it's important to support them. Here's the Booksense website again, Booksense, and here's David's article from Bookweb (the American Booksellers Assoc. newsletter): Bookweb.


When I can find them, I like to support an independent retailer of any stripe. You guys work very, very hard and are really committed to your customers. But our local grocery store (about 3 rows of merchandise plus liquor and homemade pastries) is carrying two novels by a local writer, Bob Adamov. Is that OK?

My impression was that I was buying books from used book dealers who advertised and sold their wares through Amazon, e.g. books-fyi or bookandprint. Are these not independent booksellers? The books were all shipped from different parts of the country. Perhaps I misunderstood the Amazon listings.

I believe that Half-Price is a mini chain in the SW.
Mini, in that they're not Borders or B&N, but rather somewhere in the spectrum between the chains and indies. I'd say (not that you need my go-ahead), go for it.

Amazon will sell anything they can get ahold of, including f&g's (folded & gathered, books before they're bound), review copies, comped copies, old discarded library books (yes), left-overs from FOL sales, etc., returns that Amazon has already received money for, and isn't planning to refund, etc. etc. Yeah, I'm bad-mouthing 'em.

I have just purchased four "used" books from different booksellers through These are new/good technical books, and I think I'll be trying to go this route more in the future. I have to assume that these shops were indies. They certainly gave that appearance.

Most of my other book buying is at Half-Price Books. Man, have I spent a bundle there over the years! First in Austin in the 80's, and now here in Houston. Where do you see a Half-Price Books thingie fitting into the indie ecosystem? Do you consider them an independent dealer?

I've known Dave Unowsky personally for nearly 30 years. His HungryMind/Ruminator shop was the very first bookstore my children visited (as, literally, babes-in-arms). When my eldest had to endure her first school year immunizations, she was in a complete uproar so as a "reward" I took her to Dave's store. Seeing that she was angry and tearful, he asked "What's the matter, Annelise?" and she explained the horrendous owie she'd received at the hands of her pediatrician. Dave promptly rolled up his shirt sleeve to display some ancient scar he'd received in a baseball game and spent a good 15 minutes comparing wounds, pacifying her (when we arrived home, she described the conversation to the Mom in vivid detail). Dave hasn't only run a wonderful bookstore, whose closing we regret. He's a "nice guy" (the highest compliment I can give another man). We're still hoping that when things settle, he'll regroup and return.

OK, thanks for the correction, I've never actually been to a TJs, but I know they have nuts by the gallon! Yes, I suppose Target and a few other chains do the book thing.

I think you're mixing two oranges with a pear there. Trader Joe's really doesn't have anything in common with Costco or Sam's Club. 80% of TJ merchandise (other than perishable groceries) is produced for them/exclusive to them, and most of the rest is wine.

They're really not a discounter as such; they're a specialty grocer.

(I don't remember seeing books at the local TJ; they certainly wouldn't be carrying best-sellers, for example.)

Maybe you meant Target?

Yes, Inkwood's a great store. I wish more people could see the big picture (re: supporting the little guy). Unfortunately, it's most times easier, almost always cheaper, and frequently more convenient to support the big guy (I've done it, guiltily, when sloth and a few other bad habits kick in, mea culpa).

I support independents too, I especially like Inkwood Books in Tampa (who sells cool bookmark/greeting card things too).

Inkwood has an interesting collection, not as large as the chains, but much more varied (diverse even). Inkwood can of course get any book you might want in just a few days. I don't order books online - why should I when I can talk to a nice knowledgeable person at Inkwood. It takes no longer for Inkwood to get a book that it does for it to show up in the mail from an online store.

I always go for the little guy when I can. A fantastic statistic is that small businesses employ three times as many people in the US than multinationals. I don't know if it is true, but I hope it is. I don't get coffee from Starbucks and I don't get books from Barnes and Noble. I go to the little guy just to be a pain in the big guy's neck.

Think locally, act suspiciously.

Glad to hear it, and yes, it's great that a local writer is featured at your local grocery.

It's just when COSTCO or Trader Joe's or Sam's Club carries the Bill Clinton book, or the 911 report, for example, that the indies are in trouble. Sam's etc. will mark those bestsellers down by 30% or more, and the indies just can't afford to do that.

Chuck, here's the deal... When you're buying used books, those indie used book dealers use Amazon for "fulfillment" and Amazon takes a good percentage of the profit. This is opposed to the antiquarian bookseller on Main Street who has been trying to sell books there for fifty years, and who is now having to supplement his business by internet sales through Bookfinder, Abebooks, etc. etc.

New book sales through Amazon take away from traditional independent bookstores in your community, but I think you probably knew that.