Independent Bookstore Day

Why I celebrate in Seattle not Portland

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Michael Dylan Welch writing some serendipitous haiku while wearing an incredible squid hat at Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond.

Independent Bookstore Day is an annual bookish holiday similar to the music lovers’ Record Store Day. Unlike the music industry, where you can socialize at concerts while doing something you love, the power of Independent Bookstore Day lies in the celebration of bookworms: a day where hundreds of possibly-too-enthusiastic book lovers frantically travel the city, collect stamps and think about all the books they want while surrounded by others who are also super stoked about books.

My partner and I started an annual tradition of attending the events in Seattle, Wash. last year, which has 19 participating indie bookstores. Why not Portland? Well, there’s only four participating bookstores, and Powell’s isn’t one of them.

For Seattle’s Independent Bookstore Day, participants are given a passport and their first stamp while visiting the first bookstore. After collecting all 19 stamps, you’re officially deemed a champion and invited to a party where you’re awarded a champion card, which gives you 25 percent off at each of the participating bookstores for the next year.

“But Jake,” you might say, “you will never make your money back with that measly discount having to drive to Seattle.” No, no I will not, but my partner really loves books, and the adventure is priceless.

We woke up at 3:30 a.m. and drove to Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo. At 7:30 a.m., people were already in the bookstore. The staff was excited, gave us a Viking pancake, a cup of coffee, our pick from an assortment of books in a bin and “a wordsearch to fill your time on the ferry.” As we were leaving, a line of over 60 people had formed, streaming out the door with people who just crossed the ferry from Seattle.

That excitement continued all day. There were Instagram picture frames, scavenger hunts and so many stamps. The bookstore staff offered snacks and was more than happy to chat about their favorite books.

Seattle is great because it is big enough to support 19 thriving independent bookstores, such as the poetry bookstore Open Books A Poem Emporium. On Capitol Hill, Ada’s Technical Books has dedicated itself to science, math, programming and other technical related items, such as 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and mind puzzles.

Sure, sometimes you end up at an average bookstore or in some weird strip malls, but the bookstores want you to be engaged and have a good time.

Island Books is in the most unassuming exterior, but inside, they’ve got sweet old typewriters and a decent selection of books. Book Larder is a cookbook shop with a kitchen that hosts demos by various author chefs. Even the University of Washington’s bookstore is on the list, and it’s got quite a collection beyond academics.

Portland needs to step up its game. Four bookstores don’t compare to Seattle’s 19-stop marathon. Done right, it will take you pretty much all day to complete. I ran into old friends and people we met from last year, and by the end of it, we were exhausted.

We could say a lot about Seattle’s lousy trajectory and development—R.I.P. Seattle Mystery Bookshop—but at least most of their bookstores are able to stay open. Portland is growing and leaving a lot of cool things in the dust. However, Portland also has the opportunity to leave a lot of terrible things behind. We’re still only at the beginning of a long, painful growth period. As a city, we can choose to be better and embrace different and independent cultures, or we can watch the city continue to cater to CEOs’ of Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear.

We can have more great bookstores; Portland State could have an amazing bookstore. We have to demand it. Until then, I’ll just keep driving to Seattle. Sorry Annie Bloom’s. I respect your commitment, though!

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