Support Indie Bookstores Without Leaving Your Home

It's more vital now than ever to keep these beloved institutions alive, so we've collected some of our favorite bookshop merch

Photo by Pj Accetturo on Unsplash

For the past six years, Independent Bookstore Day—billed as a “one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country”—has taken place on the last Saturday of April. (That’s tomorrow!) It’s usually a fun, light-hearted, occasionally raucous spring day where book lovers go on a crawl, buying books and collecting stamps at bookstores in their local community. Sadly, an IRL celebration isn’t possible right now, but that just means your local indie needs you more than ever.

A lot of stores are doing curbside pickup or selling through their own websites or Bookshop—but what if your quarantine TBR pile is already out of control, or your lockdown brain just can’t cope with anything over 240 characters? Fortunately, you can still wear, drink from, write on, smell, or dress your baby in cool merch from indies across the country. (And after you’ve bought all your bookstore swag, store it in a Read More Women tote bag festooned with some of our edit note pins to support EL too!)

Indie bookstores closed down to help keep people alive. If you can swing it, let’s return the favor.

Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, New York

Cobble Hill bookseller Books Are Magic has tons of cool swag, and this isn’t even the store’s first political-ish merch (see, for instance, the Melt the Guns tote, benefiting Everytown for Gun Safety). But it’s probably the most topical bookstore tee you could acquire, and buying it supports not only Books Are Magic but the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

The Ripped Bodice, Los Angeles, California

Now is the time to finally declare your trollophood with this cheeky cap from romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice. (True trollops will also want to cozy up in a Ripped Bodice robe over their lingerie.)

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Twenty Stories, Providence, Rhode Island

There are plenty of candles that purport to smell like books, but how many hand-poured candles demonstrably benefit indie bookstores? These exclusive Twenty Stories candles come in four literary scents: Americanah (tobacco and vanilla), Leaves of Grass (sweet grass), Feel Free (ocean mist), and Beloved (lavender).

Split Rock Books, Cold Spring, New York

Yes, the target audience for this “Born to Read” onesie can’t read yet—but by the time we’re out of lockdown, who knows? We keep hearing that Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine, so if your infant can’t use this opportunity to learn to read, maybe they never lacked the time, just the discipline.

Book Moon, Easthampton, Massachusetts

We love pretty much all the merch from Pulitzer-nominated slipstream author Kelly Link’s bookstore, but for straightforward messaging you just can’t beat this bumper sticker (also comes in a square sticker and a shirt).

Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.

We’ve all got a little more time to read now, but compared to the number of books out there, it’s still so little time. Juice up to keep reading well into the night with these diner-style coffee mugs—you still won’t finish reading all the books, but you might get a bit closer.

Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, Colorado

You know that thing where you’re like “oh no, I’m finally getting sick, my throat is dry and I feel flushed and awful” and then ten minutes later you realize you just need to drink a glass of water? Yes you do. But you can banish the experience by always keeping a water bottle to hand, perhaps one of these stylish jobbies from a nearly 50-year-old Denver bookstore.

Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Missouri

Is lockdown leaving you hungry for human connection? Reach out to a friend by writing a note on this beautiful art nouveau postcard inspired by Left Bank’s late, beloved cat Spike.

Lost City Books, Washington, D.C.

After nearly 40 years in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, used bookstore Idle Time Books was purchased, rebranded, and reopened as Lost City Books—more or less just in time for coronavirus. Fortunately the shop got a very cool logo to go with its cool new name, so you can stock up on totes, mugs, shirts, and these handmade pins.

Words Are Power

Changing Hands, Tempe, Arizona

You’re not just supporting a venerable Tempe indie with this shirt—you’re supporting the very concept of language, plus an extremely fly ’70s aesthetic (the same era when Changing Hands opened!).

Thank You Books, Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham’s Thank You Books is just happy you’re here—and you’ll be equally happy cozied up in a “Thank You for Reading” sweatshirt, truly the best possible work-from-home uniform. (Or try one of their plastic bag–inspired tees, which will surely induce nostalgia now that we’re not going to the corner store all the time.)

Women and Children First, Chicago, Illinois

Celebrate 40 years of this Chicago feminist bookstore—and help them make it to 41—with an inspiring tote featuring women and others using books to help lift each other up.

Spectator Books, Oakland, California

You’ll have to DM Oakland used bookstore Spectator Books on Instagram to get your hands on (or get waitlisted for) these wildly cool illustrated tees, but what could be more worth it?

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Birchbark Books & Native Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Birchbark Books, owned by National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich, specializes in literature by Native and Indigenous writers (including signed books by Erdrich herself). The shop also sells art, jewelry, and other handiwork by Native Americans. We especially like this beautiful, functional tote, a handy carrying case for all your books by Native authors or all your prints by Native artists, or why not both.

Riffraff, Providence, Rhode Island

Your bookstore cafe is so 2000-and-late. Riffraff bookstore bar is living in 3008 by selling wine, cocktails, and beer alongside books—when it’s open. When it’s not open, please content yourself with this minimal but striking t-shirt.

Word Bookstore, Brooklyn, New York

Is this not basically what all bookstore swag is really saying? Just come out and say it, imo, if you can say it with a super-soft, beautifully-designed shirt.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Michigan

You say you don’t need another tote bag but the LOGO. Is. SO COOL. Give in! Give in to the tote! And prove yourself a true member of the literati by stuffing it full of other totes from bookstores, presses, and literary magazines.

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White Whale Bookstore, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Is it Moby-Dick? Is it a large sperm whale plummeting to the ground next to a bowl of petunias? Is it one of the many other literary whales who are escaping us just now? We think this striking, surprisingly adorable whale logo from Pittsburgh’s fresh new indie is whoever you need it to be right now.

Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kansas

Lots of shops have hats. Some even have beanies. But a beanie with the name of the shop intarsia-ed right in—that’s something special. You know you haven’t washed your hair in three days, so make sure everyone else doesn’t know by covering your shame with this stylish cap.

Care Packages

Need some book recommendations? Astoria Bookshop (Queens, New York), Loyalty Bookstore (Washington, D.C.), Magic City Books (Tulsa, Oklahoma), and a few shops already on the list above are offering curated care packages and book bundles delivered to your door.

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