What Services Can Make Your Bookstore Unique?

As a writer for a blog that reviews independent bookstores, I’ve visited quite a few and taken note of some of the unusual services that the stores offer their customers. Here’s a review of what I’ve found in the last year, maybe something will strike your fancy as a fun addition to your store.


Independent bookstores, new and used, assist their customers by recommending books with shelf-talkers and with a staff recommendation section. But that is only the start for Bookshop Santa Cruz. The store draws in the community by holding a drawing each month to pick the “community member” who chooses the books to fill one shelf on the recommendation bookcase. Additionally, Bookshop Santa Cruz asks a local expert to recommend books from her field. The month I was there, the conductor of the local music festival highlighted several books on classical music. A previous month featured a landscaper who stacked the table with gardening books. The store also notes with a shelf-talker the most popular book in each genre. By the time I left Bookshop Santa Cruz, I gained a sense of what Santa Cruz likes to read.

Book of the Month Clubs

To encourage automatic repeat buying, several bookstores provide book-of-the-month clubs. Some are fairly general with the stores offering to tailor the shipments to the customer’s preferences or to a child’s age. Other clubs are specific, either the topic of the bookstore (such as murder mysteries from a mystery bookstore), or autographed books from an author visit, or a first edition from a debut author.

Book Groups

Members of book groups are repeat readers and many stores sponsor a variety of book groups, but others work to support outside groups. Warwick’s in La Jolla hosts an annual night for book groups to listen to recommendations from several staff members. Bookshop Santa Cruz offers a similar evening quarterly and arranges for either the staff or people in the book industry to speak.

Tattered Cover BooksI noticed that some stores tap into their local resources to sponsor specialized book groups. Duttons of Brentwood was owned by a music professor, so he arranged a classic music book group that attracted musicians and aficionados alike. In Denver, Tattered Cover hosts the Rocky Mountain Land Series that focuses on environmental issues. The Book Works in Del Mar is located near a medical research complex, so it holds a Mind-Brain series that asks members of the medical community to lead and participate in.

Charitable Giving

Several of the larger independent stores include charitable giving programs. Almost all of the recipients are local agencies, but the methods were different. The Elliot Bay Book Company chooses a charity (these rotate over time), then picks a bookshelf of books the purchase of which will trigger a donation. Tattered Cover encourages participation in its membership program by giving 1% of the member’s purchases to a charity chosen by the member. Warwick’s gives 1% of its monthly sales to alternating charities.

Teachers and Schools

Both Warwick’s and Tattered Cover host school activities. Warwick’s invites both the parents and the teachers to an annual school evening. It also notifies the schools when a children’s author is reading and offers the parents a special discount for the autographed book. Tattered Cover invites teachers to an annual Educator’s Night to pamper them and share recommendations for books.

Hopefully, some of these activities spark an idea for a special activity in your store. They are a way to encourage repeat business and build your bookstore community.

Do you have any unique programs in your store? Please share them!

Kim Allen-Niesen
Co-Founder, Bookstore People

Facebook Comments

Related post


  • I’m a paperback exchange so have running credit accounts. I normally sell books for half cash/half credit. Many people bring in more then they could ever possibly run through. So I offer them the chance to put some of it on a credit for use by teachers so they can buy at a discount for the classroom.

    For the holidays I comb through the kids books and pick out all the ones that pass as new and put them on a special shelf. I allow customers to purchase them with credit only for donation to Toys for Tots. Some customers that go to Florida for the winter send me email saying “use X dollars of credit for Toys for Tots” and have me pick the books for them. I normally send them back a picture.

  • Avatar
  • Hi Kim – what a great idea! There are several ideas that I might take on there for my own shop. The more time-consuming ideas are at the moment ‘on hold’ until my kids are in school – we’re running on very minimal opening hours at the moment (mainly weekend afternoons)… but I have many MANY ideas. One thing we are doing this year is initiating a new art prize for Australian artists, to show our support for the art community. We’ve just added a gallery space to our shop, so we’re calling our new award the Blarney Biblio-Art Award. I’ve taken 80 vintage-ish books (hopefully nothing screamingly valuable!) and thrown them in a barrow as well as listing them on the web, with the idea being that an artist selects one or more books, makes the purchase which is also their entry fee, and creates an artwork inspired by or built around that book/s. Selected entries will be exhibited for a month in our gallery, and there will be two winners chosen (first prize, and a people’s choice). This will coincide with Port Fairy’s book-related weekend, Ex Libris Book Fair, so hopefully there will be many book-folk around who will find such an exhibition interesting! We plan to run this annually if it goes well this year (and at the time of writing this, there are only 18 books left in the barrow and two weeks to go to deadline!). I hope any bibliophiles out there aren’t too upset at the thought of artists “manipulating” real books for their expression!…
    Jo Canham, Blarney Books & Art

  • Avatar
  • Thanks for the wonderful ideas! I’m looking forward to hearing how the Blarney Biblio-Art Award turns out.

  • Avatar
  • Makes me want to open a book shop!

  • Avatar
  • I just tried to submit this on your email to me, but it didn’t send. You are looking for some writers to contribute to your blog, and I have an idea.I don’t know if this would fit, but our public relations firm promotes books and authors as well as other businesses. Would little tips from us to authors who are writing books or who want to write them may make the blog interesting. Ideas on how to promote their books…including making the most of booksignings at bookstores be a good fit for you blog? We presently have about 20 authors as clients. We have won 3 national awards for the best book promotion in the country, and we go across the country to different writers conferences teaching authors how to market their books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *