Every Third Weekend: a way to save your local indie

A couple of weeks ago, I was crashing and my beloved knew it.  He suggested we take Martin Luther King day off and go to Denver–wander through the new Ikea store to see if we might find some storage for our basement, maybe.

More importantly, we would go hang out at The Tattered Cover bookstore.  As Christopher Robin wisely understood, I needed a good long amble through the slightly dusty-smelling aisles of a bookstore with chairs and obscure texts on things like the 1918 flu (one of my current obsessions) and ordinary ones like how to garden year round.

I am a writer. I am a reader. These places are to me like blood to a vampire.

I felt better just walking in. All those silent, noisy books, all the way to the ceiling.  All those magazines about every geeky interest in the universe.  All those tags telling me why I might like this book and that one.  I wanted to savor the upcoming pleasures, so we ate bowls of soup and drank some tea, sitting in the corner just looking at all the possibilities.  I felt overcome with pleasure that I am a writer, and took a picture to remember that I am, that this is great stuff, that books are more than commerce, way way way more, and it really was the only life I wanted and I have it.

That was even before going to actually look at books.

These are the sections I checked out: the magazines, including the juicy European fashion rags. Food Essays.  The “new and recommended” section.  Science fiction and fantasy, where I lingered with the second volume of Connie Willis’s award winning World War II duet, but I haven’t read the first one even though I have it, so I put it back.   I wandered through history: medieval, European, World War II and World War I and African American soldiers in WWII.  Flu. Fiction, gardens, Indian writing. Memoirs.

I bought Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals because there is a vegan in my unfolding novel. I bought a book on gardening year-round because I’m dying for spring and plants and seeds.  I bought a memoir I kept seeing around, Poser, by Claire Dederer.  I’d been suspicious because the American yogi movement can get downright competitive and that’s weird, but the first chapter revealed that she’s a funny, self-deprecating person grappling with the need to be perfect and a mother and all kinds of other things.  She’s a western native (always a big plus with me), a Seattleite, and also lived for awhile in Boulder, at the Chautauqua center, which I love. (Of course, now she lives on Bainbridge Island, with all the other writers in America who don’t live in Brooklyn, but that’s another topic.)

Two hours, three books, endless browsing.  I was like a car filled with gas by the time I left, all my reader/writer centers charged up and ready to go.  I remembered that there are thousands of ideas and subjects to read and write about, a zillion ways to do it, a billion experiences I can have simply by picking up a book and cracking it open and being willing to go forth to….anywhere.

The very sad part of this story is that I had to drive 70 miles to get there.  I live in a town of a half-million people and there are no indie bookstores left.  There used to be two, downtown on the park, but they’re both gone.  Black Cat Books still lives on in Manitou Springs, but it is a much smaller place, more focused.  I still love to wander there, but it doesn’t give me that excessive sense of delighted overwhelm that I get by going to the Tattered Cover.

And I’m really afraid these stores might be disappearing, that in five years, this experience will not be available to me, much less for our grandchildren. So what can we do?



Here are some thing I was brainstorming:  what if there was a Twitter campaign like #Fridayreads?  Only, it could be every third weekend #indieweekend.  Or something.  (Maybe something like this exists already and I don’t know about it.  If so, please correct me in the comments.)  Maybe all of us who love these stores would then make a concerted effort to visit them.  Buy books there.  Support them online.

I am not saying I hate the chain stores.   I don’t.  I am an equal opportunity bookstore slut, ready to hang out anytime, anywhere.  But I am very afraid that the changes in our world are going to close those big, rambling, beautiful bookstores we all grew up with.

As I left the Tattered Cover last week, my arms full of books, my heart and soul renewed, I thought of the Chinook and The Four Corners bookstores in Colorado Springs, both lost to me now.  I wondered what I could do to save the remaining indies.  What action can I personally take?

This is one.  I’m writing this column.  I’m committing to go to Denver more often to support the Tattered Cover (and buy things from them online).  I can try to organize something like #indieweekends on Twitter or find somebody who is really good at organizing to do it for me (more likely). When I visit other cities, I’ll go to those indie bookstores and buy from them, too.  (Oh, woe is me!)

You are a writer, too, or you wouldn’t be here. What can you do to support your local bookstores?  What ideas do you have?  The power is in our hands. Let’s use it.


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.


  1. says

    I would love to do this! The Tattered Cover is one of my very favorite memories from my trip to Denver 13 years ago and when I started on Twitter 4 years ago, they were one of the first that I looked up to follow.

    I get that amazing feel when I walk into a bookstore, that all things really are possible in the pages of a book. I might write books that are only available in digital copy, and the majority of what I read may be in digital copy, but I deeply love the printed word, the smell of a book as I flip through the pages.

    I think, I’ll try to go find one of those fantastic independent bookstores this weekend.

    Thank you, Barbara.


  2. says

    I think that’s a lovely idea. The “buy local” and “shift your shopping” movements certainly seemed to make some headway during the holiday shopping season; now that we have the rest of winter to face, it’s important to keep up that commitment. Twitter seems like it would be a great way to organize it, as well.

  3. says

    I think this is a fantastic idea! I love indie bookstores. I’m lucky to have a small used bookstore in my tiny town, and an indie bookstore in the next town over, which is only a little more populated than mine. To get variety, however, I do have to drive 1/2 to Barnes and Noble.
    I take my four year old to storyline once a week at the indie store, and shop at least twice a month at the used bookstore. People know us there, they are friendly and grateful for the business. I love the wood floors, crooked shelves, the train set and stuffed animals in the kids corner- in BOTH stores. It would break my heart of they went out of business.
    Thanks for the post, Barbara. I think this is a very important issue for readers and writers to support, one that’s very dear to our hearts. :)

  4. says

    Nichole Bernier posted this morning about a beautiful bookshop on Martha’s Vineyard that’s closing down. (Look at that staircase!)

    I drove by an abandoned video store in town just yesterday and wondered if bookstores would eventually go the way of video stores, leaving no recourse than to get our videos and books streamed to us over whatever device. It’s sad.

    I felt sure a hashtag for indie bookstore support has been used on Twitter. But I just did a quick search, and saw/remembered that #indie is mostly used to indicate self-publishing now. That could be a major stumbling block for the small bookstores trying to start a movement. But I’m happy to help promote something with a distinctive hashtag.

      • says

        I looped you into a convo w/ Richard Mabry and Michael Palmer on Twitter over this. Michael has been using the clear #indiebookstores. #indiebookstoreweekend might be too long for a hashtag, though. Maybe we can find a way to stand behind Michael’s tag, like “Ordered the latest Barbara O’Neal book #INDIEbookstore.”

  5. Vaughn Roycroft says

    I’m like you, about 70 miles away from a large indy bookstore, and don’t get there often enough. One of my all-time favorite indy bookstores is one I only get to once or twice a year–McLean and Eakin in Petosky, MI, where we vacation. It has one of the most amazing local and state books and authors sections I’ve ever seen.
    I was recently in Bellingham, WA and stopped by Village Books on an autumn Saturday to find it bustling. I went upstairs to the fantasy/scifi and a book club was just finishing up their meeting there. A few of them immediately engaged me, asking me what I’d recently read in the genre and so on. Downstairs a boisterous children’s group was meeting. It was such a vibrant atmosphere. I just noticed in looking up their site to remember their name, that their slogan is, “Building community one book at a time.”

    Great post. I’m interested in finding ways to help, too, and am looking forward to reading the comments. Thanks, Barbara!

  6. says

    What about boutiquebookstores to indicate something small (I.e. Not chainy) and independent? (Like a boutique hotel) But it’s kind of a mouthful when you add weekend. #bookiqueweekends maybe? Bookique = boutique bookstore? Too annoying?

  7. says

    Thanks for this post. I got the same feeling the first time I walked into Powell’s in Portland, OR. Unfortunately there are no indie bookstores left in my region so I am guilty as charged. I must plan a field trip.

  8. says

    My local indies have all gone to the big bookstore in the sky, but I patronize the closest I can find (70 miles away.) In a similar vein is a movement called Small Business Saturday. http://smallbusinesssaturday.com/ They encourage patronizing small businesses during the Holiday shopping period, but it makes good economic and community sense year-round.

  9. says

    I live in the suburbs of Washington DC–our nation’s capitol, for heaven’s sakes!–and there are NO bookstores closer than a 30 minute drive for me. No indies, but not even a big chain store–how crazy is that?! I agree, Barbara, the magic of bookstore browsing is absolutely irreplaceable.

    • says

      Wow. I used to live there, a little over ten years ago, and I felt like every suburban strip mall featured a B&N. Guess times have changed.

      I can still walk to an independent book store here in Boston, but (I suspect) because rents are sky high, it’s so cramped in there that I don’t understand how people manage to browse. The whole experience is rather like going through someone’s very cluttered attic.

      If I take a fifteen minute road trip to neighboring Brookline, there’s a fantastic indie book shop with a much more thoughtful layout.

  10. says

    I held the launch party for my first novel at an indie bookstore in our community, the same one that had Sara Palin for a signing of her book. (My crowd was smaller). And a few weeks later, it moved to another city. Sigh… There are still three small (intimate is probably a better word) store in this city of 123,000 north of Dallas, but no one seems to know where they are.

    If someone asks about indie bookstores in your neighborhood, refer them to indiebound.com, where they can click the link along the right side of the page to locate a bookstore near them…if there is one.

  11. says

    I love this idea! In Portland we have the mother of all indie book stores and then lots of struggling little ones. If you do decide to make a push for the 3rd indie bookstore weekend would you contact me. I’d be happy to write a blog post and publicize it to support the indie bookstore cause.

  12. says

    I love indie booksellers, and recognize the angst of sometimes talking lots about kindle books versus our beloved local bookstores.

    I really miss Osondu Booksellers – that was on Mainstreet in Waynesville. So cozy. I do frequent Blue Ridge Books and News, which has this really lovely “sitting area” with comfy couches and chairs and booths. I often buy books there, go to meetings there, etc.

    • says

      I know. I love getting books electronically, too. For one thing, I travel quite a bit and that used to be the single biggest conundrum: how do I fit all these books into my suitcase for a trip to Australia or England? That’s a long trip! I need books!

      And of course I buy zillions of books overseas, too, because it’s cool to see what’s selling there, and to discover new voices and all that. Still. A plane is a better place with an ereader heavily loaded with books.

      But I can buy ebooks and also support my local indie bookstore. That’s my hope, anyway.

      • Stefani says

        You an get Google eBooks online from many of the independent booksellers found at indiebound.org. You can get the ebooks to work on a Kindle Fire, but not on earlier versions of the Kindle. Here are directions on how to get a Google eBbook to work on a Kindle Fire: http://www.changinghands.com/ereader-kf

  13. says

    Twitter campaigns are fine but what if your followers are on a different continent? I think bookstores have to be proactive here. If digital books are taking over sales, they have to rebrand themselves as “writer and reader hangouts” instead of commercial enterprises. Why not run a campaign like Nonowrimo where participating bookstores each have a novel on the go, and anyone who enters the store can add a few paragraphs to the plot? It would require a location in a corner of the store and someone to daily update the plot so that writers can keep on track. Other than that, there should be a launch party for interested customers and a completion party for all those who added to the manuscript. I believe this would not only brand the bookstore as one that caters to writers but serve to build community among writers. The completed draft could be checked for spelling and grammar and then printed in its rough form, to be distributed to the writers as a memento of a fun event. The object wouldn’t be to make money so much as to rebrand the bookstore and establish the habit of spending time there. First prize would be for the writers to draw interested readers and for the whole group to become a kind of book-loving family, but even if the project remained low-key, it would have demonstrated the bookstore’s commitment to staying open for the sake of booklovers!

  14. Kari T says

    (For one, say hello to the Tattered Cover for me. I loved it when it was downtown, but once they moved I never went there any more)

    Funny, just this weekend I told my SO, “I want to go hang out in a bookstore.” Here in the bay we still have some (Keplers in Menlo Park is awesome). If book stores want to thrive, however, they need to figure out how to lure customers in the door, let them sit and eat cake for awhile, then download to their kindle as much as they can.

    I actually buy from Amazon, but usually from the ‘used’ book stores, i have the whole country to choose from, and need it as I’m usually buying little known books.

    (Do you live in Manitou Springs? Gorgeous town if so. I had such a nice time there)

    • says

      Colorado Springs, but many of my friends are in Manitou. One of my favorite spots!

      I love my Kindle AND my paper books, too. I just love having both of them, and read about half and half. How I read is not so much the trouble as how we save bookstores, that experience.

      The way we use our dollars, the way we purchase anything from food to books to garden supplies has consequences. Ease is not always the best reason to do something. (I do it, too. Buy something with a click. Shop at Amazon for a big order of everything from bullion cubes to knives. I just keep trying to pay attention.)

      The trouble with encouraging bookbuyers to sit in the store and download is…how do the bookstores pay for their inventory if everybody buys from Amazon? There’s the problem, and it’s very real.

  15. says

    This is a wonderful idea. I used to live in Longmont, CO and on trips into Denver, always made a point to visit The Tattered Cover. (Not that visiting a bookstore is ever a trial for me!) I live in MA now, up near the NH border in a small city in a pretty rural area. I am sad to say our one small indie bookstore just closed its doors. The store was a great merging of local artisans, local writers, musicians as well as a nurturer of community. I think the problem might have been location, or perhaps a cafe might have helped. It seems the world of the printed word is at a critical moment of transition right now with the introduction of eBooks and the burgeoning indie writer movement. It will be interesting to see how it shifts and grows. In the meantime, I for one will stay firmly perched with one foot in my Kindle and the other in my beloved paper books—the ones I try to always purchase from those small booksellers.

  16. says

    It really is a big point of transition….and I keep hoping that maybe there will be a return of the cozy store, the cafe/bookstore.

    Which reminds me that I forgot about Poor Richards, which is largely a used bookstore attached to a cafe and toystore in downtown Colorado Springs. I meet people there all the time.

  17. Jill says

    Oh how I love being surrounded by books too! Thanks for this article and the gentle reminder that we, too, as writers need to be supporting those who support us.

  18. says

    It is the same here. Within two hours I have barnes and noble. hmm. Nothing. A cultural desert. However these big guys are beginning to fall over too and I do NOT have faith in the fantasy of an everlasting internet. SO I continue to collect old and new books and one day maybe I will just OPEN a book store. I also think, it is important to frequent libraries. These are in danger also. Good article. If i knew of even one independent bookstore anywhere around here I would frequent it. But there is nothing. c

  19. says

    A) Love that first shot, b/c that’s the exact shelf (the middle one) where I found my copy of War Dances by Sherman Alexie. (For a great price, too!)

    B) Love the idea of saving our indies. (Although really, ALL brick-and-mortar bookstores need our support at this point…) In the Cincinnati area, Joseph-Beth has a great presence, and I definitely try to do my part to help them.

  20. says

    I heart Tattered Cover–one of them is only 15 minutes from my house, and I’m planning to go there to browse Sat. and to see Becca Fitzpatrick do a signing on 2/9. I love the idea of #indieweekend and haven’t heard of any official campaign, but I’d love to help. :)

  21. says

    What a beautiful post. You’ve inspired me to be more diligent about supporting the last remaining indie bookstores in my own small city. Thank you.

  22. Crichardwriter says

    This site Indiebound http://www.indiebound.org/ actually provides the locations of independent bookstores in various areas. I think I will start taking more field trips to support these bookstores as well. I tend to frequent the bookstore in Concord, but I would love to find others in Massachusetts.

  23. kate says

    Thanks for visiting the Tattered Cover! You’re welcome to come any time. Don’t forget, though, about an indie more near you: Poor Richard’s on Tejon in Colorado Springs. Not the TC, but definitely a treasure worth supporting.

    Also, Small Business Saturday on Facebook and the FB pages of these stores would keep you in the know about “first Friday”-type events. Thanks again for supporting your indies!

  24. says

    “I am a writer. I am a reader. These places are to me like blood to a vampire.” You hit it right on the jugular! Tattered Cover and so many rapidly disappearing stores are so much more than Books. They are community, connection, inspiration, opportunities to explore the unexpected and discover more than the content in the pages. They are sanctuaries for the soul! But we are the very source of their destruction, as we order from Amazon and consume so much digitally what is left to sustain them!?! I LOVE Tatterd Cover, architecturally, emotionally, taste, touch, sound, smell, I can’t wait to return and welcome any effort to keep them alive!