What Makes a Bookstore Unique?

Charter Books storefront

After the coverage we received in the Newport Daily News last week, questions, requests, and words of encouragement came flooding in. To all of you who contacted us (or even placed an order), thank you.

One question on social media forced me to stop and think before answering. The commenter noted the use of the word 'unique' in the above article and asked how our store will be different from other bookstores in the area. It's dangerous to attempt to discern intent and context in an internet comment, but it gave us an opportunity to expound on the unique... uniqueness of independent bookstores.

Sometimes what we want is reliability and consistency. Forced to spend the night in a strange town, we seek out a Holiday Inn Express and the Chili's across the parking lot because we know exactly what to expect. But homogenization only does so much. The benign pleasure of comfort food cannot match the exhilaration of walking into a dusty record shop and hearing strange music from the speakers. Or the thrill when you buy the record right off the turntable.

I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but the magic of indie bookstores is that each one is unique. The curated selection of books is carefully picked by a dedicated staff of readers. That inventory is culled and nourished by the customers that actually buy the books (It's hard to stay open if you don't stock things people will buy). Certain titles are featured because of authors that visit, or because of special interest to the neighborhood. Sometimes a bookseller falls in love with an outrageously obscure lost classic, handing it to everybody who walks in. And suddenly, the whole town is reading that book. That's something like a miracle, and so far, algorithms can't replicate it.

I can only hope that you'll help us make Charter Books a store like that. And while we will certainly be unique, I also hope we aren't the only indie bookstore you frequent. Island Books in Middletown has been a gold standard in Newport County for decades. Commonwealth Books is our neighbor on Washington Square, and you're bound to find something rich and strange in their stacks. Ink Fish Books in Warren is only steps away from In Your Ear Records. And our staff has close friends at the beautiful Savoy Bookshop in Westerly.

Independent Bookstore Day is this Saturday. The doors will be open. Stop by and say hi.