Independent bookstores like Laura Romani’s Los Amigos Books in Berwyn grow, growing more diversified: American Booksellers Association

Laura Romani, who resides in Chicago with a background in education and library science, was considering switching to a new career.

“I was at home two years ago, thinking about all the experience I had and how I wanted to contribute to the Latino community while also allowing myself to be on my own and benefiting from my love of books and my passion for multilingualism,” Roma says.

The answer I decided: open a bookstore.

With the help of grants and motivational investigations she and her husband received during the pandemic, Romani launched Los Amigos Books, initially online last year and now with a convenience store in Berwyn. Focuses on children’s stories in English and Spanish.

Inside Los Amigos Books in Berwyn, which is among a growing number of independent and most diverse bookstores.

Inside Los Amigos Books in Berwyn, which is among a growing number of independent and most diverse bookstores.

Laura Rodriguez Romani via AP

Stores like Romani’s have helped contribute to a year of greater growth and diversity for the American Booksellers’ Association, a trade group for independent bookstores. The association now has 2010 members at 2,547 sites – that’s more than 300 since the spring of 2021.

This is the highest ABA total in years even though the association tightened its rules in 2020 to include only stores that “primarily sell books” rather than just any store that displays books.

Some of the increase is due to bookstore owners delaying membership renewal in early 2021, ABA CEO Alison Hill says, due to uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic. But more than 100 of the new members are stores that have opened over the past year, Hill says, and dozens are owned by people from a broader racial and ethnic group.

They include Romani’s in Berwyn, Libelula Books & Co. in San Diego, Yu and Me Books in Chinatown in New York, Modern Tribe Library in Killeen, Texas, and Socialight Society in Lansing, Michigan.

ABA has always been predominantly white. In June 2020 – after George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis – Board Chairman Jimmy Vioco said the association had not done enough “to break down barriers to membership and service for black, Native and colored people”.

Now, Hill points to the group’s new stores and diversity initiatives and says, “The rise in BIPOC stores is a huge change for us.”

Like Roman, many new bookstore owners came from different jobs or still keep them on the side.

Sonia Spencer is working as a consultant to help fund The Urban Reader in Charlotte, North Carolina, focusing on books by African American writers she opened in part because of the Black Lives Matters movement and her concern about increasing book bans.

In Locust Grove, Georgia, Erica Atkins was a college teacher and coach who, while recovering from surgery, had a vision that she had to open a shop. This is how Birdsong books began.

“I’ve dedicated my life to sharing knowledge,” Atkins says. “Anytime I have a conversation with someone, I make recommendations for a book.”

In Ossining, New York, Amy Hall says her work in fashion inspired her to open the Hudson Valley Books of Humanity. She’s been looking through her bookshelves and thinking about how to apply sustainability in clothing to what she’s reading. She decided to start a store that offered the most used books and reflected the economic and ethnic diversity of Ossining.

“I wanted to build a library that would welcome people from all these different segments of our society,” Hall says.

Despite fears that the COVID-19 pandemic will destroy book sales, publishers have posted solid profits over the past two years.

Hill and others feared that hundreds of member stores could close in 2020. As things turned out, about 80 stores were closed, and only 41 went out of business in 2021.

Freelance bookstores have always faced hurdles—from the rise of Barnes & Noble and other “superstores” in the 1990s that helped drive thousands of freelancers out of business to the growing power of Amazon.com and recent problems like supply chain delays and high inflation.

Spencer says high costs, particularly in terms of rent and shipping, have made it difficult for Urban Bookstore to break even.

In Birdsong Books, Atkins says she’s seen a huge jump in Bible prices, as the cost of the King James Edition has gone up by several dollars.

At the Changing Hands bookstores in Arizona, buyer Miranda Myers noticed several price increases, including Emily St. John Mandel’s “Sea of ​​Tranquility,” one of this spring’s major literary releases, and Rachel Smith’s upcoming book Lore Olympus.

Myers “certainly notes that these price increases are happening more and more recently.”

However, Gael Shanks, owner of Changing Hands, says sales are “going up, and so up. We had the best first quarter we’ve seen in the store’s history. And this second quarter is also following the path. It looks like people are reading more than ever.”