It’s the holiday season, and it might be time to get some gifts for those you love and care about.
If the gift you’re thinking about is a book, it might be easy to select an online retailer or a big box store. But why not consider something close to home that will help out your community and local small business: your local independent bookstore?
In South County, two independent bookstores are getting ready for the holiday season: Wakefield Books and Books on the Pond, which is located in Charlestown.
“We’re a full-service bookstore, we cater to anyone and any kind of interest,” Wakefield Books owner Bob Ryan said. “We have bestsellers, we have bargain books, children’s books, games, jigsaw puzzles.” The store is located in the Wakefield Mall.
Among the services Wakefield Books provides is a catalog put together by the New England Independent Bookseller’s Association highlighting new releases for the holiday season. Wakefield Books is part of both the NEIBA and the American Booksellers Association. The NEIBA catalog is available on their website, wakefieldbooks.com.
Ryan says there are multiple reasons to go with an independent bookstore. “It helps out your local area more, more money goes back to your local area if you buy from an independent than a chain or certainly from Amazon,” he said. “We love what we do here, and Amazon is just as happy to sell you deodorant as much as a book. We’re booksellers here, and we take a lot of time and effort to carry the books we have in our store here to our customers in South Kingstown.”
It’s the personalized service you get at an independent bookstore, Ryan said, that sets it apart. Since customers enjoy mystery writers, they have a wide selection of that genre for purchase. Local authors are always featured, as well as local interest books on topics like Rhode Island history. Jigsaw puzzles and board games are also popular this year with quarantine fresh on everyone’s minds.
Ryan is encouraging consumers to shop early.
“I don’t think a lot of people are comfortable with being in a store that’s crowded. So if they wait until that last week or two before Christmas, they’re going to run into a little more crowdedness in the store,” he said. “There was a promotion with the ABA that October was the new Dec.ember and now November is the new December, really to try to get people in the mindset of getting their shopping done early.”
Wakefield Books has a number of plans for the holiday season. Along with participating in the Wakefield Mall-wide festivities like gift wrapping and visits with Santa, they will also participate in Small Business Saturday and will hold raffles and book fairs, the latter of which will support local schools.
Ryan says one of the benefits of books as a gift are to get away from using screens.
“It’s a chance to unplug from all that and slow down and if you haven’t read for a while, it’s a chance to rediscover how lovely it is to sit down quietly and read a book.”
Books on the Pond, established in June 2019, also curates its inventory in response to what its customers want. “At an independent bookstore, you have the ability to articulate and discuss what you’re looking for with someone who’s interested in wanting to know more about you and can better point you in the direction of what book you’re looking for,” owner Alexandra Lehmann said about the benefits of choosing an independent bookstore. “We call that hand selling, and so here at Books on the Pond we’re very privileged to know our customers as our friends and our neighbors.”
Based on what someone’s passion is, Lehmann says Books on the Pond will reach out to publishers and find out what books might be published on that topic during the year. They’ll also request reviews to ensure their customers are getting the best information on the books they’re looking for and get the books people want. “That’s the other joy, when people come in and say, ‘Oh you’ve got a great collection, but you’re missing this, this, and this,’ and I’ll get on it right away and I’ll order that for the store, because when a customer wants to recommend a book, it’ll generally sell to another customer,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann said it’s pretty simple to tell, when someone comes in, whether they want to browse in quiet or look for assistance to find a book. Books on the Pond will take their cue from the customer; their main goal is that the customer comes again.
While Christmas events are currently fluid due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Books on the Pond does plan on having some Christmas events. Lehmann says they’ll have a Santa Claus (wearing a mask), Christmas music, a fireplace and wooden toys available for when people come in to do their shopping. They’ll also bring back a letter writing campaign that saw people write letters to American service members abroad and veterans who are in rehab.
Lehmann said South County is full of readers and she feels privileged to provide a space in the community to read and purchase books.
One of the great things about giving a book as a gift is the amount of genres that you can get. Lehmann said she tries to steer her customers toward something hopeful at Christmastime, such as a book on learning a hobby like knitting or a humor book. There’s science fiction and fantasy, murder mysteries or a nonfiction book to help people learn about the world or better themselves. “It’s such a personal journey to choose a book, and that’s why I think when you have an independent bookstore that provides you with a reading room, coffee and tea, maybe a little music in a quiet space, you’re more apt to choose and go home with a book that you really have a good chance to read.”