St. Louis independent bookstores form alliance

| Scene Reporter

St. Louis has been the home city to a number of literature’s greatest talents, including Maya Angelou, Tennessee Williams and Nelly (lyricists totally count). But even with such famed writers from the area, most students don’t know about the literary scene of St. Louis.

If you are like many Washington University students, it’s likely that the last bookseller you visited was a large company like Borders or Barnes & Noble or a website like Amazon. In our Wash. U. bubble, not very many know of the delightful independent bookstores that operate throughout St. Louis.

Avid readers or students interested in exploring St. Louis should definitely visit one of the city’s independent bookstores before they finish their time here.

Luckily, now it is easier than ever to stay informed of the independent bookstore scene: On Feb. 16, 11 locally-owned independent bookstores formed the “St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance.” This coalition includes Left Bank Books in the Central West End, Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop, Pudd’nHead Booksellers in Webster Groves and Main Street Books in St. Charles.

According to the Alliance’s website, the stores allied to foster “the literary needs of St. Louisans.” Among other aims, they hope to support the creative and literary efforts of the St. Louis community and offer books that “fill their souls.”

So what, exactly, is the difference between an independent bookstore and a commercial bookstore like Barnes & Noble? I asked Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books and president of the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance, for his opinion.

“Everything!” was his enthusiastic response.

“For one thing, the person doing the buying has had years of experience and has a good idea of what works for the customers of his store,” Steele said. “A big-box store has to serve many different locations across the country, and its buyer has to make essentially wild guesses as to what will work for every single store. At an independent store, it’s tailored by us to our customer’s tastes and interests.”

The Washington University students who frequent St. Louis’ independent bookstores have noticed this individualized attention.

“I’ve found that [the employees] are so eager to help you,” junior Lizzy Fleagle said. “They’re passionate about literature and want you to enjoy your time there. I like that you can go into the store and mention a book you like, and then bam! Like wildfire, they’ve given you five awesome recommendations.”

The St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance also helps spread the word about each store’s unique qualities and the benefits of the local bookstore market as whole.

“The better we do as an alliance,” Steele said, “the better we do as individual stores.” This alliance will help to keep the rich literary scene of St. Louis alive, as “sales reps and authors visit a store based on the health of the city’s bookstore market.”

In addition, buying at one of the local bookstores helps the St. Louis economy.

“The money you spend in these bookstores stays in St. Louis,” Steele said. “If you buy a book from Amazon, you’re essentially putting $20 in an envelope and sending it away into the world. If you buy books here, [the money] stays here. We pay taxes locally and support other local businesses.”

Steele and the other bookstore owners are confident that this alliance will help them connect with a larger audience in St. Louis and get the word out about all that these bookstores have to offer. “It’s like I always say,” Steele said. “One independent voice may be quiet and ineffective, but if you band together and sing, your message will be heard.”

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