In Providence, it’s pretty safe to say we love our bookstores. Within a total area of 20.5 square miles, we have eight of them, each independently owned. Throughout the year, but especially on April 30, be sure to visit at least one for Independent Bookstore Day, a national celebration that takes place annually on the last Saturday in April at participating indies across the country.
Throughout Rhode Island, bookstores are so much more than retailers. Each unique brick-and-mortar offers a space for people to come together – both in person and virtually – to exchange ideas and share in the human experience. Shopping at local bookstores is a great way to support neighbor-owned businesses who in turn bring employment opportunities and other services right back into the community.
Operating during a global pandemic has been challenging, but booksellers have adapted in order to survive; they’ve come up with creative ways to engage their audiences and, fortunately, customers have responded. Symposium Books on Westminster Street partnered with DASH Bicycle Shop to offer PVD DASH Delivery, where shop goods are delivered by bike for a small fee. Paper Nautilus in Wayland Square uses Instagram to broadcast images of stacks of books for shoppers to essentially do some pre-visit browsing. Cellar Stories, which prides itself on a stock of approximately 70,000 volumes, keeps an updated comprehensive listing of titles available online and offers a topic notification function where patrons can sign up to receive alerts of new arrivals on a
category of interest.
“Every community needs a strong bookstore,” says Steven Porter, who owns Stillwater Books in Pawtucket with his wife, Dawn. “It’s a place where you can browse slowly and learn about local writers, local books, and local issues. You can’t do those things online very well.”
In addition to selling books of all kinds, the Porters are published authors and their Stillwater River Publications produces a wide range of titles from authors and writers of myriad genres.
“Rhode Island is a small place with a whole lot of people, which includes an array of nationalities and cultures that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. All those influences have the potential to make RI’s indie bookstores true centers of culture and literature,” says Porter, who credits local bookstores for adapting during the COVID crisis. “If there is a positive side to COVID for bookstores, I believe it caused us all to become better merchants.”
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