Supporting Local Businesses: The Importance of Independent Bookstores


Ellie Retzlaff

Excelsior Books shows off stuffed animals, toys, merchandise, and of course, books our front.

Ellie Retzlaff, Managing Editor, Feature

I’m sitting on a comfy vintage-like chair in the middle of the store. In front of me is a couch of similar style, crazy-patterned but cozy nonetheless, and near and around the couch, and even my own chair, are baskets and setups of different stuffed animals. I’m in Excelsior Bay Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Excelsior. I’m here because I wanted to see for myself why stores like the bookstore in Excelsior are so important. 

Excelsior Bay Books, for all the books it seems to have, also happens to be covered with a number of plush animals, from pigs to whales, enough to start their own zoo. 

These animals rested in their own spots, content in the basket or on the shelf until Debrah Larsson, a full-time teacher and long-time worker of the store, would deliberately pick up and match each to a picture book with the corresponding animal, placing it next to the register, an eager gift for a customer’s granddaughter. 

Debrah Larsson was my first interview of the day. An enthusiastic and charming yet busy woman who was the sole worker at Excelsior Bay Books that day, meaning she took on the task of helping every individual that walked through the door, including me and my questions. 

For her to take the time to sit down with me really meant a lot, and it convinced me of the personal aspect that independent bookstores are known for. 

An independent bookstore can simply be defined as one that is independently owned. It is a local business, unique to a community, and contains a selection of books that is hand chosen by the staff. While most people know what an independent bookstore is, what they may not do is actually buy their books there. Because they are businesses that are based off a local economy, as opposed to say Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s large marketplace, prices do tend to be higher. Also, with the growing online shopping presence, there is less of a crowd buying from these independent bookstores. 

As a consumer myself, I can say that I have found myself buying books online or from large corporate chain stores, but, as of recently, after participating in Midwest Indie Independent Bookstore Day, which is essentially an event to celebrate these stores, I have developed a resolve to curve my buying habits towards local stores, stores like Excelsior Bay Books.

When I asked Larsson about her opinion about the importance of independently owned bookstores, she answered with a list of things I’d never even thought about before, little things that these stores do that I take for granted.

She mentioned how these bookstores are allowed to have “independent thought not tied to the big boss in the sky,” and how this enables bookstores to have a full range of opportunity in choosing books as well as having books in the store that may not be on a bestseller list but are just as good if not better reads. 

Large corporations like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles have the political ties to publishers, as well as algorithms based off a customer’s search history that show off only a limited piece of the literary world, and often this literature is the one that is paying off these companies to be in the spotlight. Larsson believes in the individuality of independent bookstores, in addition to the community aspect. People can support their community’s economy and feel welcome in these businesses that serve the locals.

Excelsior really is the backyard of Minnetonka. Being in Excelsior Bay Books felt comfortable to me, and I wanted to see how being in a bigger environment, closer to the city, changed my perspective on independent bookstores. To my surprise, very little changed. 

I went to Against the Current in St. Paul to interview Hal Johnson, the owner of the store, to find out more about his views on the importance of independent bookstores.

Johnson had many similar views to Larsson in that they both again thought that independently owned bookstores give the chance to show more books. 

Johnson believes that stores like his “provide variety and let you pick your own path.”

But, while they both believe wholeheartedly in the necessity of having local bookstores, Johnson in particular has also done something to stimulate business. He says that he prices his books so that they are the cheapest, less expensive than even Amazon. His reasoning? Johnson doesn’t believe that people should have to pay more for local business. That’s why, some days, customers will walk into the store and see the one-dollar book cart. This reduction in pricing is what helps distinguish his bookstore as one that is important and inexpensive. 

Listening and talking to these two individuals helped to me to understand the importance of independent bookstores. They do not just stimulate the local economy and provide a better selection of books. I value independent bookstores because I am able to go to a place in which the people are friendly, I feel relaxed, and I can enjoy books simply for being books. And that is what an independent bookstore is. It’s personable and it’s comfortable.