Small Pond: Why Indie Bookstores Matter to Small Places

I could wax poetic for hours about the experience of walking into my favourite indie bookstore—the creak of the floor, the neighbourhood cat who wanders in and out, the cozy nook by the front window that tempts you to sit and read…just for a minute. What I want to talk about, though, is the vital role of the indie bookstore in a small town.

In Nelson BC, population 10,000, not including neighbourhood cats, the city’s literary heart is Otter Books on historic Baker Street. But Otter is not just bricks and books. For its size, Nelson hosts a lot of literary events and at most of those, in some form, you will see Otter Books. Somehow, this small store with only a handful of staff manages to support festivals, competitions, book launches, and readings year round.

My fondest Otter Books memory may be the image of Otter’s diminutive owner Letty Bartels sitting at the book sales table for the launch of Deryn Collier’s Confined Space, with a massive stack of cases of beer towering behind her. (The aforementioned book is set largely in a brewery and the launch was held at the Nelson Brewing Company).

Books may be inanimate objects (on the outside), but spreading the joy of reading requires movement and action. Nelson’s reputation as a thriving literary arts community is owed in no small part to Otter Books and the wonderful people who get involved, who bring books out to the public, who work hand-in-hand with non-profit organizations to share the joy of words.

For local authors, sequestered in the remote Kootenay wilderness, cut off from the bright lights and hub bub of Vancouver or Calgary, Otter Books offers the opportunity to be a big fish. It is not unusual to find the works of Kootenay authors featured prominently on the Otter shelves or in its windows. Photos of local authors adorn the store’s wall. And, for the social media crowd, Otter tweets and Facebook posts spotlighting local authors abound.

Indie bookstores are important everywhere but in a small town or city they are so much more than just a place to buy books.

When you step into Otter Books, you are not just stepping into an indie bookstore, you are stepping into Nelson’s indie bookstore. Community pride shines through on every shelf and every welcoming smile. The literary heart of our little city beats strongly—we may be small but we are loved.

Otter Books with Kristene Perron, Anne DeGrace, Deryn Collier, and Samara Nichols

(L to R) Samara Nicoll of Otter books, authors Deryn Collier, Anne DeGrace, Kristene Perron. Photo: Will Johnson

On Saturday May 2, 2015 I’ll be joining my fellow authors Anne DeGrace and Deryn Collier as we celebrate Authors for Indies Day at our beloved Otter Books. We’ll be taking two hour shifts in the store, talking to customers about the books we love and making recommendations (we’re also hoping to get a few recommendations ourselves!). If you’re in Nelson, stop in, say hi, browse, read, buy a book…or two…or ten!

You can also visit Otter Books on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re not in Nelson, check out the Authors for Indies website to find out what’s happening with your local indie bookstore. You may get to rub elbows with your favourite author!

Got a favourite indie bookstore? Tell us about it in the comments.

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