The bookworms began arriving as soon as The Neverending Bookshop opened its doors at 9 a.m. Saturday in Edmonds.
They were there to get a stamp on a “passport” that listed all 26 bookstores participating in the Seattle Independent Bookstore Day challenge, including three more in Snohomish County: The Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and University Book Store in Mill Creek.
Think of it as a Seattle area bookstore crawl where you can win prizes. The reward for visiting three stores was a 30 percent off coupon at any participating store. If you visited 21 stores, you earned a “Bookstore Champion” card with a 25 percent discount for the entire year.
Factor in bike rides, ferry and bus schedules, traffic and parking, and it becomes an all day challenge — hence the hurry. But if you had some time to spare, you could stay at each participating store for book signing events, special merchandise, children’s activities, live music and games for just that day.
There was a controlled chaos in The Neverending Bookshop’s 1,230-square-foot space. While owner Annie Carl was busy behind the register, her mom, Nancy Tietje, stamped cards for visitors as they streamed in and out of the store.
By noon, around 400 people had already come and gone — and more than a few of them bought books.
“It’s basically my holiday season crammed into one day,” Carl said during a lull in the action. “I’ve already made what I usually make in a month.”
“Today really reaffirms why I do what I do. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job,” she said.
Independent Bookstore Day is a national event that takes place on the last Saturday in April to celebrate locally owned bookstores.
And there is reason to celebrate: Despite online sales, the number of indie bookstores in the U.S. grew by 35 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to the American Booksellers Association.
Perhaps it’s because shopping online means you can’t smell the pages of a book, chat with a friendly bookseller or meet other literary enthusiasts. Others say social media, such as the popular hashtag #bookstagram on Instagram, has also helped revitalize the industry.
Whatever the reason, Seattle’s event has skyrocketed in popularity. Just 42 people managed to complete the challenge in 2015. Last year, nearly 500 filled up their passports.
Kelsey Martin and Josh Orf-Rodriguez still had their Bookstore Champion cards from last year when they stepped into Third Place Books for their 16th stop of the day.
The engaged couple, wearing matching Independent Bookstore Day T-shirts, had been on the road since 6 a.m., driving north from Olympia to kick off the challenge at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo.
Martin, who said she reads about 40 books a year, said the event serves as a reminder that choosing where to buy books is about more than convenience or saving money.
“Sure, you could probably save a few dollars if you got that book on Amazon,” she said. “But what are you paying for when you buy that book in an independent bookstore? It’s going toward your community. It’s giving actual people actual jobs and supporting things you want to see.
“You don’t want all these places to die out. That’s really important to me to be contributing and keeping these places around.”
Martin, 29, and Orf-Rodriguez, 31, bought books at about half their destinations. They never lingered in a store, sticking closely to a schedule Martin carried on a clipboard.
Edmonds Bookshop has participated in the challenge from the beginning. Next to Christmas shopping, it gives them one of their biggest boosts of the year — both in morale and sales.
“It’s our awesome day,” owner Mary Kay Sneeringer said. “It’s so nice to see everybody supporting independent bookstores.”
Michelle Bear, assistant manager, added: “It means so much. And we always thank everybody because we wouldn’t be here without that conscious decision.”