April 30 is Independent Bookstore Day

Celebrate with a visit to your Ocean State favorites

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It’s pretty safe to say, Rhode Islanders love our bookstores. We have many all over the state, each independently owned and with their own vibe. Throughout the year, but especially on April 30, be sure to visit at least one for Independent Bookstore Day, a national celebration that takes place annually on the last Saturday in April at participating indies across the country.

Bookstores are so much more than retailers. Each unique brick-and-mortar offers a space for people to come together – both in person and virtually – to exchange ideas and share in the human experience. Shopping at local bookstores is a great way to support neighbor-owned businesses who in turn bring employment opportunities and other services right back into the community.

Operating during a global pandemic has been challenging, but booksellers adapted in order to survive; they’ve come up with creative ways to engage their audiences and, fortunately, customers have responded. In Providence, Symposium Books on Westminster Street partnered with DASH Bicycle Shop to offer PVD DASH Delivery, where shop goods are delivered by bike for a small fee. In Charlestown, former Rhody Gem Books on the Pond, an idyllic spot housed in three barns on 2.2 acres, created an outdoor reading patio last spring, which continues. Warren’s Ink Fish Books cleverly bundled books and gifts from local makers into Rhody Reader Boxes for the holiday season.

“Every community needs a strong bookstore,” says Steven Porter, who owns Stillwater Books in Pawtucket with his wife, Dawn. “It’s a place where you can browse slowly and learn about local writers, local books, and local issues. You can’t do those things online very well.” In addition to selling books of all kinds, the Porters are published authors and their Stillwater River Publications produces a wide range of titles from writers of myriad genres.

Laurie Sutherland, who took ownership of Island Books in Newport last summer, notes that her favorite thing about owning an indie is providing personalized service. “Many people come in the store not knowing exactly what they want to read, but because our booksellers are extremely well-read and know the store inventory so well, we are able to help customers get books they love – and they come back and tell us how much they enjoyed the experience, too! We also custom order books l – if we don’t have a book someone wants in the store, we find it for them from one of our publishers,” she says.

“Rhode Island is a small place with a whole lot of people, which includes an array of nationalities and cultures that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. All those influences have the potential to make RI’s indie bookstores true centers of culture and literature,” says Porter, who credits small businesses for adapting during the pandemic crisis. “If there is a positive side to COVID for bookstores, I believe it caused us all to become better merchants.”

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