Bookstores are back | What’s caused the resurgence of the local bookshop
Four independent bookstores have opened in Knoxville within the past year. Why? Let's find out.
If you want to read a book, where do you get it from? The library? The internet? Do you download it to an e-reader?
All those options are why it seemed, for a while at least, that brick-and-mortar bookstores might be going the way of the dinosaur. Sure, big names like Barnes & Noble can compete with Amazon, but your local independent bookshop? They struggled.
Well, they used to. And now, unlike the dinosaur, independent bookstores are roaring into town once again.
“We’re looking at all these cool things in Knoxville now, a lot of breweries and coffee shops all over the place, and he was like ‘one thing that we need more of are independent bookstores,'” said Tex Fry, quoting Nick Wendel. The two friends and Farragut natives are the owners of Bear Den Books in Sequoyah Hills.
That’s one of four independently owned bookstores that opened in Knoxville in the past year.
“I used to work in Austin, Texas and there was an independent bookstore down the road from my office,” said Fry. “On my lunch breaks, I would go over there and just peruse books and I would get to know the people that work there and ask them what they liked. It got to be where it was a place where I felt comfortable. I felt like I was at home, and you can’t get that on Amazon, no matter how great their prices are or how convenient it is.”
That’s part of the drive behind any small business owner, to make the customer feel like a friend, and become a trusted staple in the community.
“You can stumble upon what could turn out to be your favorite book, and you can ask me what my favorite books are,” said Fry. His favorite book is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty. It’s an 800+ page Western novel and Fry would love to talk with you about it.
Bookstores in many ways have the pandemic to thank for people wanting places and connections like this to come back.
“The world outside went away for a good year and then slowly came back,” said Fry. “You have people that just want to go out and go places and see people and bookstores are a big part of that. Actually seeing a book you like and going to get it and getting to know the owner, you didn’t have that for years.”
Bear Den Books hold kids’ storytime every Wednesday and hosts other guest readers and lecturers, working to become a true community space.
“If you’re an author, you just wrote a book, we want to be able to get you on the shelf and give you a spot and let you be able to tell all the people you know that your book is in a bookstore,” said Fry.
While four new independent bookstores at once may seem like a lot, they’re all vastly different, and Fry thinks there’s room for more.
lowercase books is a used bookstore in Parkridge. Addison’s is a downtown bookstore specializing in rare and old books. Bear Den Books sells a curated collection of popular and lesser-known new books and books by local authors.
Fable Hollow Bookshoppe specializes in fantasy books and is also a coffee shop owned by Alyssa Stewart and Casey Jessen in Fountain City.
“Bookstores are amazing places of learning and of comfort,” said Stewart. “We wanted a space that encourages community, especially amongst creatives, and a bookstore was the perfect fit for that.”
Stewart said not only do more people want to shop local when it comes to books, but these bookstores are better able to keep up with demand than before thanks to several changes.
“Indie bookstores are actually a lot more stable now than they used to be,” she said. “We have a lot more access to resources that used to be only available to big corporations. With technology advancements and protection laws for indie bookstores, we can now order any book a corporation can, which allows us to cater our selections to our patrons with special orders even if we don’t have the book currently in stock.”
These bookstores work together, too, referring each other to customers looking for something specific.
“I feel like we’re all very different from each other, but we all have the same goal. We all want to create more readers. And the more readers there are, the better it is for all of us. So it’s definitely like we’re all working together,” said Fry.
Those are readers of all ages and backgrounds, finding community on the shelves of these stores and with the people who run them.
“Part of my job every day is flipping on that open sign and seeing who comes in the door,” said Fry. “It’s a joy.”