In December, I took a quick trip with a friend to Solid State Books, a community bookstore by Union Station with a cutting-edge, political theme. In just a few hours spent there, we were treated to a long list of personal recommendations for books from the staff, all of whom were clearly passionate about art and literature, each person having their own genre or specialty they were more than happy to discuss with us at length during our visit. Even now, I remember the hospitality and free exchange of interests and passions we experienced at the store, and there’s one thing I can say for sure about it – it’s the kind of experience you’ll only reliably find in independent, community-oriented spaces like a locally-owned bookstore.
Sadly, these independent spaces for art and literature can be hard to find at the best of times, and often, they may only be accessible for those with the means to travel between towns and cities to search for them in some situations or completely unavailable in others, with their niches often being filled by more commercialized, corporate spaces. While these spaces shouldn’t be dismissed or discounted – they have their own contributions to make to artistic and literary scenes, even if the contribution is limited to offering spaces for art and writing groups to meet – they still miss out on a level of authenticity and personal touch most smaller, local and independent operations have. With less personal involvement between the staff of corporate bookstores and art-related groups, less opportunities are offered for groups such as art collectives and collaborative writing clubs to put down long-standing roots in the local community. As such, opportunities for artistic expression and to reach broader audiences and for community members to discover new interests and communities are fewer and further between the less access to independent and locally-owned spaces is available.
If you’re interested in furthering the cause of independent bookstores, there are a few simple ways to support your local independent outlets and help keep these neighborhood institutions around. Simply paying a visit to one and spreading the word about these alternatives to larger, more commercial bookstores goes a long way towards ensuring they can keep doing business and serving their communities. In Washington, I recommend visiting Solid State and Politics and Prose, two modern independent bookstores with laid-back vibes and plenty of topical, witty offerings. If you’re looking for one closer to home or further off the beaten track, Bookshop.org offers a list of local bookstores in every state and the ability to order books from each one, making it easy to support a local shop even if you don’t live nearby!