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10.5 ways local bookstores beat Amazon

Harvard Book Store hosts big-name authors, sells signed first editions, gives a loyalty discount — and you should read its Twitter feed.Josh Campbell

If you’re rolling your eyes in anticipation of another save-the-bookstore rant, don’t worry. I’m not going to wax nostalgic about an almost-extinct breed of shopping destination or beg you to support it as an act of charity. Following a robust holiday sales season and a strong first quarter, many bookstores are doing quite well these days. But they do need paying customers to keep the success going. Herewith, 10 (and a half) reasons why you’ll get a lot more than books if you buy from local stores.

Wellesley Books.Josh Campbell

No. 1

They entertain your kids.

Bookstores are gold mines for parents. A well-stocked children’s section can engage a kid (and you) for a serious stretch of time. Then there are the activities. The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline (617-734-7323, thechildrensbookshop.net) has a Friday story hour, and Barefoot Books’s Concord studio (978-369-1770, barefootbooks.com) offers at least one story time each day. The Fresh Ink program at Porter Square Books (617-491-2220, portersquarebooks.com) gives young readers advance copies of books and the chance to publish reviews online. And the soon-to-reopen Curious George Store in Harvard Square (thecuriousgeorgestore.com) is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser for the under-8 set.

No. 2


They stock literary treasures.

You could hunt for rare, vintage, and signed books online, but it can be easier and more reliable to do this through a store. The signed first edition club at Cambridge’s Harvard Book Store (617-661-1515, harvard.com) delivers exactly what its name promises — signed first editions of books selected for “literary merit and potential collectability” and sells the books at the publishers’ list price. At Rabelais, which specializes in food and drink titles (it’s reopening later this month in Biddeford, Maine, 207-774-1044, rabelaisbooks.com), there’s a collection of culinary ephemera, from pamphlets to printed menus, and a deep selection of out-of-print and rare cookbooks.


Actress Rachel Dratch.Mike Coppola/Getty Images

No. 3

They bring celebrities to town.

If someone famous pens a book, she’s probably going to do a signing around here. Coming up, everyone from Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live fame on April 10, hosted by Brookline Booksmith (617-566-6660, brooklinebooksmith.com) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, to Judy Collins on May 9, hosted by Wellesley Books (781-431-1160, wellesleybooks.com) at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Wellesley.

No. 4

They educate you.

It’s one thing to buy a cookbook. It’s another to buy the cookbook and watch the author’s technique in action and taste the result. For example, Debra Samuels, author of My Japanese Table, leads a Japanese food workshop at Boston’s Trident Booksellers & Cafe (617-267-8688, tridentbookscafe.com) on May 24. And there are experts speaking and answering questions about everything from Fenway to the Titanic (both have centennials this spring) at Barnes & Noble-sponsored talks at the Boston Public Library this month (617-536-5400, bpl.org/news/author_series.htm). And, yes, I just mentioned a chain bookstore. I adore independents, but the chains’ storefronts matter, too. Losing them “would put a real strain on the publishing-business model and could drag down all brick-and-mortar businesses,” says Adam Salomone, associate publisher of Boston-based Harvard Common Press.

No. 5

They have real people on hand to help you.

While online-only booksellers do make individualized recommendations, these are based on algorithms. “Algorithms still can’t match the human brain for book recommendations,” says John Jenkins, manager of the MIT Press Bookstore (617-253-5249, mit.edu/bookstore). Bookstore staff members can help you navigate what’s there, Jenkins adds, and “spend a lot of time sorting through publishers’ offerings each season” to ensure they’ve got the best books in the subject areas they cover. They don’t carry everything, and that’s good. (Decision fatigue, anyone?)


Chris Matthews, author of "Jack Kennedy," browses for books after speaking at an author appearance event at the Brookline Booksmith.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

No. 6

They offer great book groups.

And knitting groups. The moderated Brookline Booksmith Book Club meets on the second Monday of each month. Brookline Booksmith also has a knitting club called Knitsmiths that meets every Sunday. Porter Square Books hosts a monthly moderated book club — and a knitting club, the adorably named Knit One, Read Too, which usually meets on the second Sunday of each month.

No. 7

They can help you write.

Bookstores are logical locales for writing workshops. Wellesley Books has teamed up with Grub Street, the second-largest independent center for creative writing in the country, to offer in-store workshops. The first session ended in March, and the next kicks off in June. Brookline Booksmith is launching a poetry workshop this summer.

The audience reacts to Chris Matthews at the Brookline Booksmith during his author appearance event.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

No. 8

They keep you in the know.

“Independent bookstores that are really thriving are using social media to spread the word about books and more,” says Bruce Shaw, publisher of Harvard Common Press. If you’re one of the 16,000-plus Twitter followers of Harvard Book Store (@HarvardBooks), for example, you’re among the first to learn about book releases, big-name speakers coming to town, and the topics and articles that have the reading and writing worlds buzzing.


No. 9

They reward loyalty.

Deep discounts aren’t just an online phenomenon. Many bookstores offer loyalty programs for repeat customers that can add up to significant savings — and you don’t have to worry about shipping fees. If you’re looking for one-hit savings, try New England Mobile Book Fair (617-964-7440, nebookfair.com) in Newton Highlands, where 20 percent off is the norm and New York Times bestsellers in hardcover are 30 percent off. They have a loyalty program, too.

Wellesley Books

No. 10

They support your community.

Bookstores tend to support local nonprofit efforts. Brookline Booksmith frequently donates to the town’s climate-action group, food pantry, and education foundation. Porter Square Books, Wellesley Books, and others are supporting World Book Night (April 23), when volunteers will hand out free paperbacks to promote reading. And Wellesley Books is sponsoring two Little League teams this spring.

No. 10.5

They sell online, too.

Yes, there are times when you want a book shipped to your door or zoomed to your e-reader. Guess what: You often can do all that through the websites of some of your favorite local bookstores, too.

Christie Matheson is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.