It started as California Bookstore Day in 2014, the brainchild of Samantha Schoech, a former bookseller, writer and editor, and her husband, Pete Mulvihill, the co-owner of San Francisco’s Green Apple Books. Now, independent bookstores all over the country are joining in the annual celebration of All Things Book. This year, the event is happening on Saturday, Apr. 30.
"We wanted to emulate Record Store Day," Schoech says. "We started with an IndieGoGo campaign, always with the intention of going national." They did the next year, and a number of publishers and professional organizations became sponsors.
"The Bay Area community really values its bookstores, and the 'shop local' message," Schoech says. Locally, there are 35 bookstores participating, from San Jose to Petaluma. You can see for yourself with this handy map.
More than retail
Today’s independent bookstore is more than a retail outlet: it’s a community center. “It’s definitely a community gathering place,” says Jean Forstner, who heads Peninsula Arts and Letters, the non-profit sister organization to Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.
Peninsula Arts and Letters produces Kepler’s events as well as events outside the store, including high profile author readings from people like Dave Barry, Mary Roach and Louise Erdich, as well as a steady stream of kids’ events.
Bookstore Day will be no exception. “We know where we live, and we know who loves to be here on Saturday mornings, and that’s families with kids,” Forstner says. “We’re going to have a big banner that kids can color. Kids can make book covers. We’re going to show kids how to make these big puffy paper things. We’re celebrating paper.”
Fun for all
For the grown-ups, there will be lightening round literary trivia, cookies from Martha’s Pastry Shoppe, strawberry lemonade - and items for sale that must be purchased in-person at a participating bookstore on Bookstore Day. Highlights include:
- A Neil Gaiman coloring book featuring 20 pieces of black-and-white art by Chris Riddell.
- A stuffed Curious George wearing a t-shirt that says, “READ WITH ME.”
- Anthony Bourdain’s Perfect Burger Print, an illustrated guide signed by him.
- Ann Patchett’s booklet of essays, A $6 Story: The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore, signed by her.
- An X is for… vinyl record, companion to Kate Schatz's book Rad American Women A-Z.
Hear the KQED Forum interview with author Kate Schatz:
A resilient scene
Independent bookstores are pretty thin on the ground these days. A mass die-off followed the advent of the Internet, and then there was the advent of Amazon.com. "We lost some real institutions in the Bay Area in the 1990s and 2000s," Schoech says. But the ones that have survived, she says, are doing well. "The doom-and gloom narrative is sort of old news."
That's especially true of San Francisco, which continues to serve as a hub for literary life on the West Coast with shops like Booksmith, City Lights, and of course, Green Apple. All are participating in Bookstore Day, along with the independent local chain Books, Inc.
But as you travel south of San Francisco, independents are thinner on the ground. Forstner says it's not uncommon to encounter book lovers who have crossed the San Francisco Bay from Fremont to attend an event at Kepler's. "There’s nothing in Fremont,” Forstner says. “We hear it all the time from that community.”
In the meantime, Silicon Valley book lovers between San Carlos and Santa Cruz can visit these participating book stores: