Fifteen years ago, when the future of physical bookstores looked particularly bleak, Molly Russakoff, owner of a book and record store in the Italian market, had an idea: if we booksellers want more customers, maybe we should make it easier. for book buyers to find us.
Russakoff considered creating a literal map of Philadelphia bookstores, but the idea never really took off. Today, supported by a growing number of booksellers, grassroots fundraising countrya highly motivated local artist — and a good time, potentially valuable resource for print lovers may soon appear.
“There seems to be a kind of blossoming in bookstores,” said Russakoff, 64, a third-generation bookseller who opened her store, Mollys Books & Records, near Ninth Street and Washington Avenue 25 years ago. (She makes the books. Her husband, Joe Ankenbrand, makes the records, and her son John Dickie runs the place.)
“Since the pandemic, people seem to be reading more,” Russakoff said. “When we originally came up with the idea, it was because a lot of bookstores were really struggling and we wanted to draw attention to them.”
The struggle is still very real. In a big hit for the city, Amalgam Comics, the first black woman-owned comic book store on the East Coast, has announced its closure this fall. (Does hoping someone comes along and saves the shop mean I have to give up fiction?)
But the landscape of the book has improved. The group was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are currently over 50 physical bookstores in the city. In a welcome intrigue for the industry, more than 300 new independent bookstores have opened across the United States in the past two years. A recent report in The New York Times said the number of stores has not only increased, they have also become much more diverse.
Here in Philadelphia, a good example of that is the city’s favorite bookstore, Harriett’s, named after anti-slavery activist and Underground Railroad guide Harriet Tubman in an effort to honor female authors. black. It opened in Fishtown in February 2020, just six weeks before the pandemic – and continues to expand.
I try to support as many local stores as possible, but I have the strongest relationship (Instagram DM) with my neighborhood bookstore, Reserved., which opened on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill last year and is part of the latest mapping effort.
Every few months or so I come across a book I must have and contact:
“Did you My broken tongue by Quiara Alegría Hudes?
“What would you say invisible child by Andrea Elliott?
Once, after a short delay, I expressed my relief: “I was afraid you were going to force me to go to Amazon,” I joked.
I’m not going to lie: I turn to Amazon for a lot, even books once in a while.
But I try to keep it local, always wondering if I get something faster or paying a few dollars less is worth narrowing down the type of community I want to be part of.
The answer is always no, and this card – which I learned while browsing my bookstore’s social media accounts — is part of fostering that kind of community between bookstore owners and their loyal customers.
The map, which on paper will measure 15 by 25 inches, will depict each store with a 2 by 2 inch watercolor created by local artist Henry Crane.
“Once put together, you’ll really be able to see how, in a city of millions, these stores are all interconnected, and how many of them are available for people to visit,” Crane said. “I think it will just open up a whole new perspective on where so many people live.”
It will be distributed free of charge throughout the city and distributed to libraries, cafes, visitor centers, universities and, of course, bookstores.
“I see it as a great marketing and sales tool because it literally puts us on the map – or a card,” said Curtis Kise, of neighborhood books, a second-hand bookstore in Center City and another member of the effort. “But I also see using the map as a starting point to try to create a kind of community that’s a little more connected.”
Beyond the map, Kise and others envision an accompanying website that could foster connections and relationships between Philadelphians and their bookstores.
Which, of course, made me wonder: being in 2022, why a map instead of an app, especially when it will undoubtedly need to be updated?
As you can imagine, the reasons are similar to why we book lovers prefer a physical book to, say, an e-book or smartphone. Additionally, Russakoff said, the map is meant to be a snapshot in time, and as much a directional tool and a work of art that can endure.
It reminded me of a quote recently posted on Instagram by my local bookstore in Cartographers by Peng Shepherd: “The maps are love letters written to times and places their creators had explored.”
In the meantime, Crane is busy kicking off the paints with a plan to roll out the map early next year.
To do this, this band of booksellers will need our support. They’re not going to sell ads — they depend on donations buyers as well as sellers. (The hope is that the bigger the stores, the bigger their donation, and yes, I’m looking at you, Rittenhouse Barnes & Noble.)
These booksellers have been working on this story for a while. But we can write the end here, Philadelphia. Let’s make it a happy one.