Indies First puts local authors behind store counters as part of Small Business Saturday
By Bliss Bowen
After Black Friday and before Cyber Monday, we have Small Business Saturday. Created seven years ago, it exists to support Main Street — small, neighborly shops rather than corporate chains. Piggybacking on Small Business Saturday is Indies First, which more specifically spotlights independent bookstores as vital pillars of their communities. Both occur this Saturday, Nov. 26, and Diesel Bookstore in Santa Monica is planning to join the celebration with help from four local authors.
The brainchild of PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author Sherman Alexie, Indies First is promoted by the American Booksellers Association, which launched it in 2013 at 400-some bookstores across the country and overseas. (It has since gained sufficient traction that last year Vancouver-based author Janie Chang was inspired to start Canadian Authors for Indies Day.) Falling as it does at the beginning of the high-pressured holiday calendar, Indies First may seem like just another retail campaign. But the benefits of supporting independent bookstores transcend seasonal shopping cycles.
According to IndieBound, which markets independent booksellers to readers looking for stores, of every $100 spent at an independent bookstore, $52 stays in the community, as compared to $43 of every $100 spent at a national chain store. Like other local businesses, indie bookstores are also more likely to contribute to charities working in their ‘hood.
They may not all be lucky enough to have a Steve Zahn at the counter, like in Nora Ephron’s 1998 rom-com “You’ve Got Mail.” But as any latte-chugging bookworm can attest, independent shops are typically (though not always) staffed with employees who can hip customers to new zines, the edgiest literary fare and poetry. (Ever tried finding local poets at a Barnes & Noble?) And many — hell, most — independent sellers are more inclined to stock the topical and political tomes readers like to consult during election seasons like this one.
Those shelves are also far more likely to hold regional history books such as Marc Weingarten’s “Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown,” which was an adult nonfiction finalist at this year’s Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Awards. Weingarten will be on hand at Diesel Saturday, along with fellow local authors Jennifer Caloyeras, Joe Ide and Sonya Sones.
Novelist and animal lover Caloyeras is no stranger to the local lit community. Her most recent book is 2015’s “Strays,” and she served as writer-in-residence at Santa Monica’s Annenberg Beach House from January through March this year. Santa Monica resident Ide has been promoting his just-published mystery “IQ”; set in Long Beach, its misfit genius protagonist and enthusiastic reviews are stirring hopes for a new detective series.
Young adult novelist Sones, a frequent LA Times Festival of Books panelist, may be the most unconventional of the four: she wrote her four YA books and 2011’s adult novel “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus” in verse rather than prose form.
At different times, Caloyeras, Ide, Sones and Weingarten will be at Diesel not to ring up purchases, like substitute checkout clerks, but to do what writers and readers love to do: talk titles, authors, genres, desert island books, and sundry literary-related elements. They’ll be available to make recommendations to curious customers, and it goes without saying they’ll be happy to discuss and/or sign their own books.
They won’t be the only local authors serving their readers Saturday. Actress/author Lena Dunham, 2016’s official Indies First spokesperson, will be helping to “handsell” books at Book Soup in West Hollywood, along with Jade Chang and Aris Janigan.
Chang will also pitch in at Pages in Manhattan Beach, along with children’s book writer Barney Saltzberg and Colin Cowherd.
Marissa Silver is among the authors scheduled to assist customers at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, and Aimee Bender and Ron Koertge are set to walk the floor at Vroman’s in Pasadena.
Diesel Events Coordinator Cheryl Ryan kept her focus local when choosing Saturday’s author participants. She says staff members are “in constant ‘go’ mode” on Saturdays, but despite any additional pressure she views Indies First as a winning concept for everyone.
“We’ve got a full house this year,” she says. “It’s fun to have the authors in the store; the customers get a kick out of it and we love the extra help on a busy Saturday.”
Authors Jennifer Caloyeras, Joe Ide, Sonya Sones and Marc Weingarten serve as guest booksellers at various times between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday,
Nov. 26, at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Ste. 33, Santa Monica. Call (310) 576-9960 or visit dieselbookstore.com for more details. To learn more about independent bookstores, go to indiebound.org.