The best way to learn a new city? Participate in Independent Bookstore Day.
How visiting nine of San Diego's independent bookstores over three days helped me feel more at home in my new city.
(Photos above taken at the UC San Diego Bookstore, Run For Cover Bookstore, La Playa Books, Warwick's, and the Library Shop. Other participating stores not pictured above include Mysterious Galaxy, The Book Catapult, Bluestocking Books, and Verbatim Bookstore.)
For the last few years, I’ve spent the month of April eagerly awaiting Independent Bookstore Day. I save every email from indie bookstores with their list of events for the day, I mark “interested” on all the events on Facebook, and I do my best to plan a logical route to visit as many stores as I can. (It’s a route that I admittedly only loosely follow, since I tend to get distracted and spend too much time at each stop.) I followed the same process this year, but with one major difference: I was preparing to celebrate in a new city.
Before this year, I’ve celebrated the day in the Chicagoland area, one time successfully completing the #ChiLoveBooks Challenge (visiting at least 10 stores in one day), and the other years simply visiting as many stores as I could. This year, I was admittedly a little nervous about celebrating in a new city that I’d only lived in for about a month: San Diego. For the first time, I wasn’t familiar with all the stores or any of the neighborhoods. But it turns out there’s a perfect way to learn a new city and its community: by visiting as many of its independent bookstores as you possibly can in three days!
While I will always love Chicago’s indie bookstore community and its #ChiLoveBooks Challenge, here’s a few reasons why San Diego’s Independent Bookstore Day brought me so much joy, and how it helped me discover my new home:
The personable store owners and staff really spent time connecting with you. At every store I went to, I had a full conversation with the person ringing me up and stamping my passport, whether it was the store owner or a staff member. They were genuinely interested in how far we’d gotten on the crawl and where we might be headed next. I even talked to several of them about the differences between my Chicago Independent Bookstore Day experience and my San Diego one. I could tell just how much they cared about their stores and the people coming through it, even if it was busy and crazy crowded!
The prizes and art were adorable. This event is responsible for introducing me to the work of Susie Ghahremani (boygirlparty.com) and I’m hooked. I love the crab she created for the bag and the whale for the pin. Many of the stores had her work prominently displayed for sale, which led to me buying a keychain with a sloth reading a book, and a literary notepad. It was a great idea to bring in a local artist as an ambassador. It shows how supportive independent bookstores are of the local community, and it helps customers discover something (or someone) new.
The San Diego Book Crawl lasted for THREE glorious days. This might not seem like a big deal, but to someone who had to try and cram 10-15 bookstores spread throughout the city of Chicago, all with different operating hours, into ONE day, having three days felt like a special gift. I actually had time to browse all the aisles of the stores and buy things I really wanted or needed. In addition to having more time to browse the stores, we also had more time to explore the neighborhoods these stores are in. We wrote down so many restaurants and shops we want to visit in the near future, and all because we walked or drove by them in route to the bookstores. That’s why the benefits of Independent Bookstore Day spread well beyond the stores and to the whole neighborhood: By bringing more people into the area, you’re giving them the chance to discover new spots they may not have noticed before, and as a result, they’ll come back more regularly.
Before Independent Bookstore Day, I worried about how much I’d miss Chicago and its literary community, and I wondered if I’d ever find one like that again. I can confidently tell you that I’m not worried anymore. After this past weekend, I feel at home here in San Diego. There will certainly be no shortage of bookstores to visit or literary events to attend. Thank you, San Diego Independent Bookstores! It was a wonderful weekend!