Indie Alert

Don’t Box Out Bookstores

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

In late October, a Weekly reader emailed us a picture he’d taken of a chalkboard notice outside Village Books’ flagship store in historic Fairhaven. The subject matter was related to the venue’s participation in “Don’t Box Out Bookstores”—a campaign helmed by the American Booksellers Association drawing attention to the high stakes independent bookstores face this holiday season in the age of Amazon and amid a global pandemic.

“COVID is not going to close this store,” the timely missive placed in front of a statue of author Mark Twain read. “Politics is not going to close this store. Amazon will close this store. Shop local.”

Our astute reader pointed out that it would be a “tragic shame” to lose Village Books, as it’s “such a great bookstore and important social hub for all of Bellingham.”

The staff at both Village Books locations in Fairhaven and Lynden are well aware their livelihood is on the line. A Facebook message they posted on Oct. 14 during Amazon’s Prime Day promotion pointed out that the company owned by multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos doubled its net profit this year.

Meanwhile, they noted, sales by Amazon and third-party vendors in 2018 alone accounted for $5.5-$7 billion in uncollected sales tax, and, in a single year, Amazon sales displaced the equivalent of 900,000 jobs. Most local businesses have a way to ship to you directly, they reminded, and purchasing directly from them at this crucial point in time may help keep them off life support.

“People may not realize the cost and consequences of ‘convenience’ shopping until it’s too late,” says Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “More than one indie bookstore a week has closed since the COVID-19 crisis began. At the same time, a report forecasts that Amazon generated $10 billion in revenue during its Prime Day promotion. Connecting these dots, it’s clear to see convenience has a cost and a consequence. Closed indie bookstores represent the loss of local jobs and local tax dollars; the loss of community centers; and the loss of opportunities for readers to discover books and connect with other readers in a meaningful face-to-face way.”

Throughout the pandemic, Village Books has continued to find ways to benefit its customers—whether it was through porch drop-offs, curbside deliveries, affordable shipping and providing online shopping experiences when their doors closed in late March, or keeping its Literature Live events relevant through virtual gatherings with local and regional authors.

Since reopening with limited capacity in early June, Village Books has also continued to provide reading recommendations on everything from racial inequality to climate change (and far beyond), hosted a variety of monthly online book clubs and classes, rolled out a new “Buzz Worthy” feature that pairs drinks from the bookstore’s Evolve Chocolate + Cafe with related reading material, and generally behaved as the community stalwart it has been since first opening its doors in 1980.

With Christmas just around the corner, where you spend your money in the final months of 2020 will likely help determine the state of your hometown when the new year arrives. Shopping locally—whether it’s for reading material, art, clothing, gifts or food—doesn’t just mean helping out the venues that may be struggling to survive, it also means less packaging, less transportation and a smaller carbon footprint.

According to the ABA, choosing a locally owned business also generates three times as much economic benefit for the local region as shopping at a chain, and approximately 28 percent of all revenue from indie bookstores immediately recirculates in the local economy.

As part of Don’t Box Out Bookstores, Village Books is joining forces with indies from California to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and beyond to get their message heard. Hopefully, they’ll all still be here this time next year. If you want that to be the case, do your part not just to keep them alive, but also to help them thrive.

For more details about Don’t Box Out Bookstores, go to http://www.indiebound.org

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