Independent Bookstore Day & the Importance of Indie Bookstores
As a lifelong book lover, I have spent a significant amount of time in bookstores. My favorite bookstores have always been are locally-owned and independent. Independent bookstores are becoming increasingly more important as the publishing industry becomes more saturated and new authors have a harder time finding a market in chain stores. Every year on the last Saturday in April, independent bookstores nationwide gather with their communities to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day and spread awareness about their importance. This year, I celebrated Independent Bookstore day hanging out at local bookstores and learning more about why they are so important to our community
West Fargo’s Newest Independent Bookstore
While some bookstores in the area have been around for decades, Ferguson Books is a fresh face in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Officially opening their West Fargo store in December of 2020, founder and owner Dane Ferguson and his team are off to a strong start in their third year. Despite being new to the FMWF area, Ferguson Books has been around for more than a decade. The first Ferguson Books opened in 2010 in a small strip mall storefront in Grand Forks. During the holiday season, they expanded and opened a kiosk in Grand Forks’ Columbia Mall.
“Back then, [indoor malls were] such a strong identifier of the economy in Grand Forks. We wanted to capture those customers by reaching them where they were shopping. So we ended up starting a little kiosk,” Ferguson said. “But after the holiday season, it was extremely expensive for us to staff [a kiosk] for almost 12 hours a day. And sometimes we weren’t getting any more than four sales. So we [asked ourselves], ‘How can we make this work a little differently?’ And then we went from that little kiosk to a storefront in the Columbia Mall. Within not even a year’s timeframe, we went from one store to two stores in Grand Forks.” When Ferguson’s family moved to the Bismarck area, he opened a store there at the end of 2016, expanding his brand to the western side of the state. The expansion continued in 2020, after the family moved to the Fargo area.
“When we came back to the eastern part of [North Dakota]… it only made sense to start another location. We [wanted to see] if we could make it work. One conversation led to another, and an opportunity opened up to work with Brian with EPIC Companies. [We figured it] out with the West Fargo city leadership [according to] what they were trying to invest in with their downtown area, and it all came together way quicker than I even anticipated,” Ferguson said.
Despite opening their West Fargo store in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Ferguson Books has been thriving in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo community. Now, in their third year in West Fargo, Ferguson aims to spread the word about independent bookstores and their importance in our community through continued participation in Independent Bookstore Day.
Did You Know? This year, the 10th official independent bookstore day was held on April 29!
A Peek into the Danz Family Bookstore
Though I would consider myself to be a child of libraries and bookstores, my life isn’t nearly as intertwined with books as the Danz family’s. Having opened the original Zandbroz location in Sioux Falls in 1989 and the Fargo location in 1991, the Danz family has been immersed in the book world for over three decades. But they had to work hard to keep their business thriving. Opening a business is rarely easy, but it was even harder in the 90s in downtown Fargo.
“At the time, people thought my dad [and my uncle] were nuts. Downtown Fargo wasn’t what it is today. [They were] opening a business in a downtown area that was quite literally failing, but on top of that, [they were] opening an independent bookstore. But to my dad’s credit, he saw the possibilities that downtown had and believed in the importance of what a downtown does for our community,” Josie Danz, general manager of Zandbroz, said.
Despite opening their business in a time that was less than ideal in downtown Fargo, the independent bookstore has continued to bring in steady business, especially since downtown has become a hub for small businesses. As downtown has grown and evolved, so has Zandbroz. Since their start, they’ve been able to become more and more dedicated to their primary passion: books!
“When we opened, we had Dakota Soda in the back of the store. At the time, there were no other coffee shops or cafes in downtown Fargo [or] even in Fargo [in general]. Fargo didn’t have a Starbucks, it didn’t have any Caribous, so we were filling a niche there,” Josie said. “Then as downtown began to evolve and all these really cool things started happening, that allowed us the chance to get out of the food industry, which is a very challenging industry to be in. That allowed us to focus on doing more with what we really stand for, which is books. Now that whole space—the space that used to house Dakota Soda—is [full of] used, vintage, and rare books. That’s a very important evolution that Zandbroz has made.”
Now, 32 years after opening, Zandbroz continues to be dedicated to cultivating the Fargo-Moorhead book community, in whatever way the community needs. One of those ways is bringing people together at the annual Independent Bookstore Day, a day that the Zandbroz family spends celebrating books and bookstores through author signings, Independent Bookstore Day swag, homemade baked goods, and more!
Independent Bookstore Day in Fargo-Moorhead
Independent Bookstore Day has always been a celebration of both books and bookstores. But these independent bookstores are offering more than just books—they’re offering a welcoming community for the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area. Josie Danz and Dane Ferguson shared their ideas of why supporting independent bookstores is so important, especially in our community.
Economic View of Independent Bookstores
Dane Ferguson values the fact that supporting independent bookstores improves the economy in our area, and supports not only the owner’s family, but the families of their employees. When asked about the importance of independent bookstores to our community, he emphasized that “the majority of the dollars stay local when you shop local.”
Ferguson added that “[with our business model], you might not save dollar for dollar on a brand-new title [compared to buying online or at a chain], but you’re going to get more value for your book, because if you bring in your used books, we give you trade credits to spend in the store. This is something that’s not usually offered at chain stores.”
Along with the unique book-buying options, independent bookstores also offer vital outlets for local authors to get their work into readers’ hands, as it is often incredibly hard to get a book into chains like Barnes & Noble unless you are published by huge publishers like HarperCollins or Random House.
“What we do for small authors that are locally published or self-published is that we try to give them the biggest platform possible,” Ferguson said. “We give every author an opportunity [to host] a book signing that’s free of charge—we just ask that the books are sold through us. There are no extra fees to have an event with us. We will put that in a Facebook event and on other social [media] for them, too, and that’s another way for those people to take advantage of some marketing opportunities that we can provide.”
This year, Ferguson Books’ Independent Bookstore Day celebrations included a buy-two-get-two-free used book deal, author signings, and Independent Bookstore Day freebies!
Support Ferguson Books
on Creating Community through Bookstores
Josie Danz feels that independent bookstores are important for a community because they help people connect with each other and find “communities within our community.”
“Nowadays, you can buy books anywhere. But the beauty of independent bookstores is that their shelves are so well-curated to their community, their customers, and the people that work there,” Danz said. “It’s much more about the experience than it is about the transaction. I think that’s why Independent Bookstore Day is so important: it allows people to come together and really highlights the community that books create.”
Independent bookstores are also able to sell books that may not be stocked in bigger chain stores because they don’t sell well enough. This gives the local community more direct access to important topics that might be harder to find in other, bigger bookstores.
“Independent bookstores give those lesser-known voices a chance, and they highlight the importance of those voices,” Danz said. “It’s about the content [of the books] and about your ability to allow customers to connect with important topics, voices, and subject matter. In big chain bookstores, at the end of the day, they’re going to put on the shelf what they know is going to sell. When it stops selling, it might not be reordered. I think that limits people’s ability to discover the world of books.”
At their Independent Bookstore Day event this year, Zandbroz hosted author signings from regional authors like Native American poet Denise Lajimodiere. The day also included a free book with a book purchase, 15% off all books, complimentary treats and coffee, and an opportunity to donate to the Power of Books Project (@powerofbooksfm)—a program that aims to provide books to women and children who may not otherwise have access.
Mark your calendars for the next Independent Bookstore Day, to take place Saturday, April 27, 2024!