Local, independent bookstores thrive despite predictions of demise

Sadie Anderson
Scott Glenn, a managing partner at Pioneer Book, busies himself. Pioneer Book, an independent local bookstore on Center Street in Provo, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. (Sadie Anderson)

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A small bell rings as customers push open the door and are hit with the scent of old pages bound into books. Novels piled high line the floor and bookshelves as customers scan the titles, ready for a new adventure to jump into.

It is small, local bookstores, like Pioneer Book in Provo, that have been said to be in danger of dying over the last decade. Articles in major media and research journals have warned that e-books are taking over the literary world and bringing an end to the reading of hard-copy books.

Since the bankruptcy of Borders bookstores back in 2011, many studies and investigations have taken place to determine whether or not local bookstores and printed books will become obsolete in the future. Most predicted reading would become completely digital, resulting in the death of independent bookstores.

A case study by Tennessee University researchers Will Hooper and Mary Katherine Rawls said the bankruptcy of Borders “signifies the obsolescence of the American bookstore.” They said the days when books were cherished are over as people now buy books from Walmart and the Internet. “When America said goodbye to Borders, it was also saying goodbye to an era.”

However, The New York Times reported in 2015: “While analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply.” Instead of a decline in bookstores, there has been a resurgence.

Pioneer Book managing partner Scott Glenn agrees. He said books aren’t going away anytime soon. “Borders closed about 1,100 locations, but since then, about the same number of independent bookstores have opened, filling the void they left behind,” he said. Borders’ selling model wasn’t working, Glenn said, but the demand for books is still there.

Sadie Anderson
Scott Glenn has been working as a manager at Pioneer Book for five years. (Sadie Anderson)

Glenn said these independent bookstores do a better job at fulfilling consumer needs for reading recommendations, relationships and a sense of place.

The 40-year-old Pioneer Book is a place where customers can bring in books they no longer want sitting on their shelves and exchange them for store credit to find another book to take the old one’s place. Glenn said the store also holds a number of events throughout the year that keep people coming back.

“Reading challenges have been really successful for us,” Glenn said. Every summer, the store holds a reading challenge with a list of 50 categories for participants to choose books from. Those who complete the challenge receive a $150 gift card to the store. Despite this reward for reading all 50 books, Glenn likes to tell people, “The reading is its own reward. Even if you didn’t finish the challenge, you didn’t fail — you succeeded in reading.”

Glenn believes people have a need for physical books they can touch, smell and hold. He said readers like seeing how far they’ve gotten and how much time they have left with the story, and they also like remembering specific moments on a certain spot of the page. He believes having these physical books is a way to display your personality on a shelf and show other people what you are interested in and what things you can talk about together. “If you’re carrying it around in your pocket all the time, you’re missing the opportunity to engage with others about things that you’re interested in.”

Sadie Anderson
Spencer Hyde’s debut novel “Waiting for Fitz” is a young adult fiction novel about a young girl suffering from OCD. (Sadie Anderson)

BYU professor and young adult author Spencer Hyde said he also prefers having a physical book in his hand. “I’ve tried Kindle; I’ve tried Audible — but I just can’t do it.”

Hyde said he thinks people are reading more than ever because of how accessible books have become. While many people do read e-books and listen to Audible, he says he believes most enjoy reading physical books.

To those who don’t read much but would like to begin, Hyde said, “start a lot of books.” He said there is a book out there for everyone, but you have to keep trying to find it. “I can get fifty pages into a book, and it’s not working for me,” Hyde said. “You have to keep starting books until you find that captivating voice.”

Provo librarians Ashley Urquhart and Nicole Sperry both believe bookstores aren’t disappearing but thriving. 

With bookish communities like BookTube and bookstagram, people are buying books for the beautiful designs and colors so they can post them onto social media. “E-books aren’t pretty,” Urquhart said. “People are buying and borrowing books not just to read but also for the aesthetic.”

Sperry said books aren’t as niche as people have come to believe. “Most people think of stereotypical bookworms when it comes to reading, but books are so broad that there is a book out there for everyone.”

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