5 Indie Bookstores That Started Book Subscriptions or Personalized Care Packages to Survive the Pandemic

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Alison Doherty

Senior Contributor

Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.

If you are here on Book Riot, chances are good you love books. Chances are also good you love bookstores. And you probably already know all the reasons why it’s important to support indie bookstores, especially during the financial crisis created by the pandemic. I don’t judge anyone for buying books on Amazon or from Barnes & Noble. And I definitely think using the library is wonderful, too (in fact, it’s how I read most books). But with decreased or completely no foot traffic, bookstores are suffering. It’s more important to support them now than ever before. Apparently, at least one independent bookstore has closed every week of the pandemic. And I worry that if we aren’t careful, so many of our beloved book spaces won’t exist once it is safe to be together again.

Many bookstores are trying creative new things to try and stay afloat. For example, these five stores have created monthly book subscriptions or personalized care packages to drive online sales. From romance novels to diverse children’s books to literary fiction, one of the best things we can do right now are stay at home and read books. Here are five bookstores, fighting to stay alive by offering these new book buying options.

The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California

This Los Angeles–based bookstore is the only one that exclusively sells romance on the west coast. Its owners, sisters Leah and Bea Koch, are also responsible for producing an annual diversity report on race and representation within romance novels. When the pandemic first hit, the store began creating custom romance care packages to try and replace income from in person browsing. They also made the rare and admirable move of paying employees to stay home when it wasn’t safe for them to come to work.

As of November 9, they’ve transitioned from care packages to a long asked for monthly book subscription service, called Read, Romance, Repeat. Of the service, co-owner Leah Koch said: “Customers have been asking for it for years, I just kept saying I didn’t have the time to devote to it. Well, I finally found the time!” Each book box comes with two new romance novels and a fun bonus item (like a candle, tote bag, or greeting card). And there are options to order a 12-month, 6-month, or month-to-month subscription. Subscribers will also have the option to preview what’s coming online or be surprised when their boxes come in the mail.

Times are hard. With COVID-19 rates rising and winter coming, staying at home reading happily ever afters sounds more appealing than ever. Their first sample book box featured a berry scented candle, If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Miracles and Menorahs by Stacey Agdern. This new subscription package is a great way to discover new, diverse romances while supporting this local, activist bookstore.

Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia

Old Town Books opened in 2018. They are a relatively new bookstore that has already built a big community. In March, they quickly pivoted to online sales with the development of a literary fiction book of the month service called With Love, From Old Town. There are options for 12-month and 6-month subscriptions, which bring you a first edition (often signed or with a signed bookplate) hand picked by the store’s booksellers.

Choices so far have included The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet, A Burning by Megha Majumdar, and Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. These choices show the store’s commitment to supporting diverse authors who are under-represented in the genre of literary fiction. In April, the store also launched Book Love where you can buy a $25 book care package for children in need and essential workers.

EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore in University City, Missouri

This bookstore, located in the suburbs of St. Louis, is the biggest African American children’s bookstore. Opened shortly after the nearby Ferguson protests after the police killing of Black teenager Michael Brown, husband and wife owners Jeffrey and Pamela Blair wanted to create a place where African American children could see themselves reflected in literature and feel proud. Like most independent bookstores, the pandemic has made it hard for this important bookstore to keep going. One way they are trying to make up lost income is through their book subscription service.

While they started the service last December, early in the pandemic they expanded it to apply to every age group of child: from board books for children ages 0–2 to YA books for teens. When ordering, the website asks about your child’s reading level and gender to select books of interest. Subscriptions all are under $25 and are billed on a month-to-month basis. They will each include two books that are perfect for building and diversifying your child’s (or your own!) home library.

Read It Again Books in Suwanee, Georgia

For 18 years, mother-daughter team Della and Kim McNamara have run this community bookstore. With diminished foot traffic and no break in rent, the store is struggling and Della and Kim had to find a new way to sell books. Personalized care packages and mystery book boxes that you can order online or over the phone have become a big part of this.

Kim stated: “It wasn’t until COVID that people started requesting it. Basically we offer the service of a concierge bookseller. Customers tell us a few books they have enjoyed in the past and we will pick out a stack of books we think they’ll enjoy today. We also added mystery boxes to our website. You tell us what books you like to read, how much you want to spend, and we put together a box of fun things to read. We don’t tell our customers what’s in the box so they get a fun surprise when they open it.”

Kim is hoping that the care packages and mystery boxes are big sellers over the holidays to make up for lower foot traffic in what is usually their busiest time of year. These boxes are so customizable and available at any price point, making them a great gift for loved ones or yourself.

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California

The Last Bookstore is a Los Angeles destination. In fact, it’s the first place my sister took me when I visited her for the first time after she moved to L.A. It is a huge, cavernous loft filled with over 300,000 used books, records, magazines, and more. And its second floor filled with book art installations makes the store a perfect fit for the Instagram age. However, with on and off stay at home orders and a lack of tourists, the store reports sales are down 80%. One way to support this truly magical location is to order a curated book bundle from the store.

With a detailed survey to fill out, these literary care packages are highly customizable with price points ranging from $25 to $200 and lots of questions about your preferences. There are also several different delivery options, especially for Los Angeles residents who can pick up bundles in the store or pay extra for employees to drive them right to your door. This is a great option to treat yourself or create a literary care package for someone else.

And if none of these feel quite right, I hope you’ll still keep supporting your favorite indie bookstores. You also have the option of using Book Riot’s own TBR (Tailored Book Recommendation) Service or checking out this list of 50 Book Subscriptions that existed pre-pandemic.