Bookin’ it to local bookstores

Small bookstores offer the readers a unique environment to discover new favorites. Photo by Jada Gangazha.


“The power of a good book” is a common phrase in today’s society.  Books have many different purposes — from entertainment to learning. But what about the place where books come from? What about the power of a good bookstore?

Shopping for books can be as easy as going to a local chain Barnes and Noble. These chain bookstores have all the genres one could possibly want: romance to sci-fi, mystery to historical fiction. But what chain bookstores do not have is a connection to the local community.

Enter independent bookstores. These bookstores are not owned by big, corporate companies but small businesses owned by someone in the local community. Local bookstores, like Irvington Books and Vinyl in Indianapolis, support the local community. 

Irvington Books and Vinyl owner Elysia Smith explains how her shop supports the local Indianapolis community. 

“An independent bookstore is guaranteed to put money back directly into the community,” Smith said. “In fact, they [give] 50% more donations than corporations, just independent bookstores alone. For example, we do all sorts of community outreach. We stock a food pantry in front of our store, and I grow vegetables and sell them at pay what you can. The proceeds that we make from those sales support the food pantry, and that’s just one example of things that [independent] bookstores across the country do to make sure that they really are a community asset.” 

Some independent bookstores sell more than just books. Often, independent bookstores sell other items like records or local art.

“We do a ton of local art,” Smith said. “I help local artists make their own screens and prints of their work. We have drawers in the shop, and each drawer is painted by a local artist. Each has their prints inside. There’s eight of them. We sell some small handmade stuff, but I like to focus on paper [artworks] — so zines and prints mostly.” 

Even though local bookstores are charming and appeal to a large variety of people, they often can’t compete with the prices of places like Barnes and Noble or Amazon. According to the New York Times, in recent years, Amazon has beat out independent bookstores in price. Because chain bookstores and Amazon are cheaper, customers are often supporting big corporations over small, local businesses. However, Smith believes small bookstores offer something Amazon or Barnes and Noble cannot capture.

“I think that I’ve always focused on business as being experiential,” Smith said. “I want people to come in and feel the vibe of the space and enjoy exploring. That really doesn’t compare with shopping online. Amazon has been a huge part of the industry since I started … it is constantly affecting every small independent retailer.”

Though there is corporate competition, independent bookstores offer a wider range of options, rather than new, mainstream titles. 

Miranda Emerick, a sophomore creative writing and race, gender and sexualities major, said why shopping at independent bookstores is beneficial to the customer. 

“I think it’s fun to [shop at independent bookstores] because they often have a much different selection of books,” Emerick said. “Barnes and Noble have your TikTok books and popular authors like Sarah J. Maas, but they won’t often carry the smaller authors. A lot of the independent bookstores I’ve gone to have had books that I can’t find [at Barnes and Noble] and books that I’ve never heard of. There was one [book], ‘The Unmapped Chronicles,’ that I found at an independent bookstore, and I love that book. I think [the book] is so fun, but you can’t find that [at Barnes and Noble] because it’s not a big name.”

Different independent bookstores serve different purposes. Some places, like Pen and Pink, sell vintage books and other vintage-related items, while other bookstores, like Kid’s Ink Children’s Bookstore, sell children’s books and toys. Independent bookstores offer an opportunity for readers to expand their bookshelf. 

Kayla Miller, a junior secondary education and history double major, said independent bookstores are better than chain bookstores due to this targeted inventory. 

“I’ve started to collect books,” Miller said. “A lot of times with the new and used independent bookstores, you can find certain cool old collector’s copies or copies you don’t typically see [in bigger corporate bookstores].” 

Independent bookstores offer a unique experience that customers can’t find through shopping online. 

Though local, independent bookstores are sparse in the Indy area, there are some hidden gems to visit around the city:

Irvington Books and Vinyl

Black Dog Books

Pen and Pink

Kid’s Ink Children’s Bookstore


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