Celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day

Seven central Iowa independent bookstores are celebrating their uniqueness with freebies, merchandise and a passport challenge for a grand prize.

The 10th annual Independent Bookstore Day will take place April 29-30. Each store will have different items and promotions.

For the passport challenge, customers can pick up a passport at any of the participating stores. Customers can complete it through the month of May by visiting every store to be entered for a grand prize at their final location, said Jan Kaiser, the marketing and events coordinator for Beaverdale Books in Des Moines.

Amanda Lepper, one of the owners of Dog-Eared Books in Ames, said last year they joined five other stores to host a roadmap passport challenge and introduce customers to bookstores in other areas like Des Moines and Indianola, Iowa.

“We had so many people come into the store, so many people that hit all six stores in 24 hours, and we had given them a whole month,” Lepper said. “It’s over an hour from the farthest north to the farthest south.”

Lepper said one of the positive aspects of the celebration is the opportunity to recognize and appreciate the distinct qualities that make each bookstore unique.

“I can go into any independent bookstore and discover something [that’s] not at my store,” Lepper said. “What someone buys in Ankeny is different from what the Ames community asks for, so we respond to and reflect our independent communities.”

Lepper said many students claim they are trying to get back into reading because they come from a period of time when reading was required and not based on their taste.

“Now you have the opportunity to reclaim your reading life, and visiting each [store] familiarizes students with locations where they might work and allows you to see a potential environment or community where you could rebuild your life […] It’s like finding your personal matchmaker for books,” Lepper said.

Lepper said the store will be contributing its own branded item as part of the promotions during the event, whether it’s a tote bag, t-shirt or bag of coffee.

Another participating bookstore is Beaverdale Books in Des Moines.

“We are the oldest bookstore in central Iowa and have been in existence for almost 17 years,” said Jan Kaiser, Beaverdale Books’ marketing and events coordinator.

Kaiser said the bookstore owes its existence to the unwavering passion of its current owner, who has managed to keep it afloat despite a number of challenges: the rise of Amazon and ebooks, two consecutive summers of road construction on Beaverdale Avenue (where the store is located), a recession and the COVID pandemic, which forced it to close for a period of around 18 months.

Despite the closure, the co-owner demonstrated remarkable resilience by setting up a curbside service and accepting orders throughout the challenging period.

Kaiser said all of Beaverdale Books’ staff are readers, and there is a page on their website where customers can view what each staff member is currently reading.

Kaiser said Beaverdale Books hosts local authors and author programs and broadcasts them on Facebook Live. She said Beaverdale will be having a “buy one, get one” on select hardcovers, free advance reader copies and other “book swag,” such as bookmarks, for the celebration.

Another participating bookstore is Reading in Public Bookstore + Cafe in West Des Moines, owned by Linzi Murray.

“I was living in New York City when the pandemic hit–all of a sudden, all my favorite bookstores became inaccessible, and I never could have anticipated how jarring that was for me,” Murray said. “I would go into bookstores and fall into a meditative trance […] It helped me realize bookstores are so essential to me.”

This led Murray to create a “bookstagram,” where she would write book reviews, and it got her into the online book community, Murray said.

“I knew [my husband and I] would move back to Des Moines, and [I thought] if we’re moving back, I can’t live somewhere with so few bookstores,” Murray said. “All of [the bookstores] now didn’t exist then, so it’s nice that we have so many now.”

Murray said her store is Asian-, female- and immigrant-owned and that they care about standing up for their values and social justice initiatives

“We engage with our community and fight for these issues that we care about,” Murray said. “We’re speaking out constantly and have done work through partnerships with others.”

Murray said she designs all the store’s merchandise as a graphic designer and partners with illustrators all over the world. She said the store will be offering free tote bags to customers who spend $50.

The seven independent bookstores participating include:

  • Beaverdale Books, www.beaverdalebooks.com, @beaverdalebooks, 2629 Beaver Ave., Des Moines, Iowa
  • Dog-Eared Books, www.dogearedbooksames.com, @dogearedbooksames, 203 Main St., Ames, Iowa
  • Dungeon’s Gate, www.dungeonsgate.com, @dungeonsgate, 2525 N. Ankeny Blvd. Suite 101, Ankeny, Iowa
    Pageturners Bookstore, www.pageturnersbookstore.com, @pageturners_bookstore, 101 E. Salem Ave., Indianola, Iowa
  • Raccoon River Press, www.raccoonriverpress.com, @raccoonriverpress, Pop-Up Locations
  • Reading in Public, www.readinginpublic.com, @readinginpublicbooks, 315 Fifth St. Suite 100, West Des Moines, Iowa
  • Storyhouse Bookpub, www.storyhousebookpub.com, @storyhousebookpub, 505 E. Grand Ave. Suite 102, Des Moines, Iowa

The event is organized by the American Bookseller Association, a trade organization for independently-owned bookstores.