Independent bookstores battle big brands


Photo used with permission of Siddhi Surawkar

Junior Siddhi Surawkar browses books at The Lantern, an indie bookstore located in D.C., offering not just books but vinyls and CDs as well. The city is home to a variety of indie bookstores, each charming and unique in their own ways.

Roshni Ahuja, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Greeting the smell of old books and the warm homey feeling of a small store is a rare experience for many as independent bookstores become less prevalent. Despite their hundred year old history with the oldest bookstore in America being The Moravian Book Shop, founded in 1745 and continuing to operate in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, independent bookstores have been steadily declining, according to Publishers Weekly

“Independent bookstore books usually have cool covers,” junior Remi Ladia said. “Prices are also pretty good, especially if you get secondhand books. But they also don’t always have all the options so they might not carry something you want.” 

Often, these bookstores will revolve around a specific subset of books, such as stories highlighting minority voices or playbooks. Due to this and the fact that independent bookstores often do not have the resources to stock as many books as large chain stores, they have less variety. According to Harvard Business School, the biggest factor that separates independent bookstores from other retail shops is the sense of community indie stores provide and the mindful curation of books that provide an authentic customer experience. 

“Personalized recommendations are better because you can get books that are unique rather than mainstream,” junior Siddhi Surawkar said. “Talking to someone in person gives them a better idea of what you would like to read rather than just an artificial suggestion.”

Independent bookstores in the D.C. area include The Lantern, Kramers, Capitol Hill Book, East City bookshop and Second Story Books.

“Kramers bookstore in D.C. has a lot of good books and there is a little restaurant area too,” Ladia said. “They have good cake and stuff and it’s just super cute.”

Other stores closer to Chantilly include chain store 2nd and Charles, which is just off of Lee Jackson Memorial, retail bookstore Barnes and Noble in Fairfax and indie bookstore Scrawl Books in Reston. Compared to metropolitan D.C., there aren’t many local options other than the famous chain store or secondhand books.

“I think bookstores struggle in more suburban areas like Chantilly,” Ladia said. “They thrive in cities because there’s more customers in cities and there’s a more intellectual audience there that bookstores target.”

With the rise of online readers like Kindle and Nook, reading online has surged in popularity, leaving bookstores in the dust as they struggle to perform against modern technology. However, buying books online is also more obtainable for a variety of people, like those who cannot access a bookstore or those who have reading disabilities and need to rely on e-readers and audiobooks. 

“I haven’t really seen many indie bookstores before,” junior Suchit Koparde said. “There is much more advertisement for Amazon and Barnes and Noble because they’re big brands. A lot of people are more attracted to going there than the smaller bookstores.”

However, when Amazon sells books, it is not with the intention to benefit the publishing industry; Amazon often undersells popular novels, making up the losses with other profits, per the American Booksellers Association Advocacy Division . Other smaller stores simply cannot compete when Amazon goes below retail price. Amazon also dominates much of the book industry, having control over many other popular book selling sites such as Book Depository, Audible, Kindle and Goodreads.

I would encourage people to shop at more indie bookstores or thrift stores because I know that Amazon isn’t the most ethical company.

— Clare Yee

”I would encourage people to shop at more indie bookstores or thrift stores because I know that Amazon isn’t the most ethical company,” senior Clare Yee said. “But also I know that Amazon is such a prevalent company in our society. It’s so popular, so it’s kind of hard to not shop at Amazon.”

Independent Bookstore Day takes place April 29 with the purpose of urging readers to become aware of where they should buy books. As the advocacy for independent bookstores increases, more small businesses can continue to survive, and the increased importance of community and diverse books can lead to more options for consumers.

“Make a conscious choice,” Koparde said. “Go to independent bookstores because it would help them.”