Shopping small has big impact

By 10:15 Saturday morning, the line at the counter at Auntie’s Bookstore was several people deep. Shoppers juggled stacks of books while reaching for their wallets. A toddler clutched a board book, unwilling to part with her find even for the minute it took to ring it up. Teens milled around in small herds, jostling each other in the aisles, while parents pondered coloring books and consulted Christmas lists.

As a reader and an author, nothing makes me happier than spending time with book lovers. These are my people – my tribe, and in their company surrounded by bookshelves, I am happiest.

While I love to browse at Auntie’s, I wasn’t there to shop, but to take a shift as an honorary bookseller during Small Business Saturday. The day is also a designated Indies First event. Indies First, a collaboration between authors, publishers, retailers and readers, celebrates independent bookstores and local communities. Speaking of local, this national movement was launched by author Sherman Alexie, who was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

I have a vested interest in the success of bookstores, and as the wife of a small-business owner, I’m passionate about seeing locally owned companies succeed. I’ve helped out at my husband’s store on occasion, but I have to admit I’m better at selling books than cutting tools. I may not know a drill bit from a tap or a reamer, but I do know mysteries from memoirs.

In addition to interacting with customers, I got to hang out with some pretty cool local authors. When I arrived Jess Walter was already there, and he’d brought donuts a la “Citizen Vince.” Walter fans will remember the protagonist in that novel was in the witness protection program and worked at a Spokane donut shop.

Walter dispensed donuts, recommended books and offered writing advice to an aspiring writer.

“Writing is more like a religion than a career,” he said.

And writers around the world whispered, Amen.

Author Bruce Holbert joined us, and when I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed, “The Mountains and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry,” by Joe Wilkins, he said, “Oh yeah, I know Joe.”

Turns out he also knows Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire books; the books on which my husband’s favorite television show is based.

I admit to having a geeked-out, fan girl moment or two, but then Shawn Vestal showed up.

I’m sure Shawn knows some awesome authors too, but we mainly discussed surviving a post-election/post-apocalypse Thanksgiving meal – which could be the basis for a hair-raising short story. Stay tuned.

When a customer asked if there was a coffee shop nearby, it was fun to be able to point them to Madeleine’s and Atticus, both nearby, while there wasn’t a corporate coffee shop in sight.

After my stint at bookselling ended, I headed out for my own shopping spree. I stopped to take a photo of the Clocktower against the background of Saturday’s blue skies, when a scraping sound jarred my ears.

I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and watched in amazement as an elderly woman pulled out of the parking lot and onto the sidewalk! Pedestrians hollered and jumped out of the way as she slowly proceeded down the sidewalk along Spokane Falls Boulevard.

Sometimes shopping is scary, but I made it safely to Boo Radley’s where I purchased some Spokane-themed items to send to my son in Columbus, Ohio. When the clerk rang up my purchases she said, “By the way, I really enjoyed your nonfiction panel at Get Lit this year.”

Shopping small put a smile on my face. It makes business owners happy, too.

John Waite, owner of Auntie’s Bookstore and Merlyn’s Comics and Games, said of Saturday’s event, “We were up from last year at both Auntie’s and Merlyn’s.”

While it’s great to have a day dedicated to supporting local businesses that help create jobs and boost the economy, shopping at small businesses can have a far greater impact if we patronize them more than once a year.

“I can’t stress enough what it means to our local economy and local jobs,” said Waite.

That sounds like a big reason to shop small all year long.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

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