These aren't just bookshops, they're an experience

Illustration by Shelsey Braswell

For locals, having libraries and bookstores around provide quick and easy access to books they may want or need, rather than waiting a few days for the shipping and receiving of the book. Being able to go into these shops means having a quiet place off campus for students to go and study and be away from the business of being on campus.

The convenience of shopping for books online or reading online books has changed the way people experience reading. Buying books through a website or reading them on a device seems easy and convenient to consumers, but the experience of reading on paper can be lost along the way.

In a small town like Flagstaff, local bookshops impact the reading style of people by giving them an experience they can't get through a device. When entering a local bookstore, there are people there to greet and help with any questions that may come up, an experience that won't be found when purchasing books online.

One bookshop located in downtown Flagstaff is Starrlight books, owned by Hugh Fogel. Fogel has been running the shop for three years, and the store has been open for over 20 years.

“So, the bookstore is important because it is an environment where there is sort of a shared, but an individual aspect to whatever we are being exposed to," Fogel said. "I see people there talk to each other, I see people talk to us, all of a sudden you are seeing people that probably are talking to people a lot more and having better conversations in a very, very small space."

In a small town, local bookstores provide a safe space for locals to enjoy what the store has to offer.

The growing use of technology might steer people away from going out because they might prefer to stay home and read from the comfort of their own space. However, Fogel said having the option to go to a local bookstore positively impacts a small town. Local bookstores provide a safe place in a small town like Flagstaff for locals to come and enjoy what the store has to offer.

Bright Side Bookshop in downtown Flagstaff is owned by Flagstaff locals Annette Avery, Ben Shaffer and Lisa Lamberson. Bright Side has been open for three years, and general manager Amy McClelland has been working there for about two years.

“I certainly think we give the community a place to gather with a literary focus. or even an art focus," McClelland said. "The sheer amount of customers that come in and thank us for being in town is amazing."

She said locals appreciate having bookshops, like Bright Side, downtown because they provide that feeling of having a safe place to go. Being able to speak to the workers about books and getting recommendations for new books is beneficial to locals as well.

"I think it’s really beautiful to be able to come in and talk about your favorite books with somebody," McClelland said. "We certainly love talking about our favorite books. I think there is this kind of idea that a bookshop is this safe space and that is definitely what we are trying to create here. Just a safe space for everyone to come in and feel welcomed and find a great new read."

Along with having local bookstores, having a library in a small town can benefit locals, too. Going into the library can bring the same sense of going into a bookshop because there is a sense of community, and the feeling of a safe and quiet place to get work done.

An aspect of the library that is different from bookstores is being able to borrow the books. Libraries also provide resources for locals that some might not get at home. Libraries provide people that can help with research, and there are computers for those who don’t have access to one.

One local library, which is at NAU, is the Cline Library, where Kathleen Schmand is the director of development and communications.

"Libraries are essential to making sure that individuals in the community have access to a variety of resources and research information," Schmand said.

Libraries and bookstores are there to support the community, and Schmand said they are there to be a part of Flagstaff and serve the locals and guests who travel through.

“Whether it is a public library or an academic library, the goal is to be there for that community, to listen to the community, understand what they need and what kind of resources, support and mechanisms need to be in place,” Schmand said.

Having access to public libraries and local bookshops impacts small towns, but the town itself also has an impact on the places, too. Schmand said people go in there to find their latest read and something that is interesting to them.

Bookstores focus on being able to move books around and adjust as the demand in the community changes.

“What people in town want to read and what they are interested in knowing about is what we are going to have on hand for them to find," McClelland said. "It definitely directly affects the books in our store."

An important aspect of having local bookstores and libraries is keeping the public interested in reading, whether it be buying books or borrowing them. McClelland said these places want people to read and learn from books. Considering there are many options in how people choose to read, she said bookshop owners and librarians want locals to consider going out of their comfort zone at times and going into one of these places. This way, the locals and the shop workers can make connections with the people in their town.

“Working here, I get to know all of the regulars who come into the store and it makes Flagstaff feel more like a small town than it actually is, but it feels like there’s a real community around the store,” McClelland said.

The people working at these shops, like Fogel and McClelland, want locals to come in and find their latest read there, and possibly stay and chat about their interests and good reads.

Even though accessing books online is helpful, being able to go into a local shop or library and reading the next greatest book is what bookstores and libraries grow from. They grow from being an accessible place for the locals and having that experience, which is not present when reading online.

“The people that read [do it] because it is a part of their nature, it’s not like you convert them. They want to learn — they are learners," Fogel said. "There are people that specifically gravitate toward knowledge building, learning and thinking."

Small, local bookstores, along with libraries, provide an environment for locals that is not as easily found when reading or accessing a book online. There are connections made that are not a part of an online experience.