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Small, independent bookstores in neighborhoods across the United States are places to discover new books and make friends.
About 20 years ago, stores like these were closing in large numbers because of competition from large bookstores and online book sales.
But about 10 years ago something unusual happened: independent bookstores seemingly came back to life. Many are profitable, and the number of stores is growing.
In a Virginia community called Arlington, many people buy their books at a store called One More Page Books. Customer Cheryl Moore says she likes the personal service she receives at small bookstores.
Moore told VOA: "I think they pay attention to the kinds of books people like to read. They have book clubs, so I don't think it's a place where people just buy books, but make friends here.”
In another part of the store, Kate Oberdorfer looks through an unusual mix of books: mysteries, cookbooks, and biographies of famous people.
Oberdorfer talks about a few of the books with Lelia Nebeker. "I do think it's a special place for people to come,” said Nebeker. She lives nearby and buys books for the store, which opened eight years ago.
After almost dying off, small, independent bookstores grew by 35 percent between 2009 and 2015. The American Booksellers Association says sales at the more than 2,400 bookstores across the country rose about 5 percent over the past year.
Hooray for Books is an independent store specializing in children's books. It opened 11 years ago in Alexandria, Virginia. Owner Ellen Klein thinks part of her store’s success has been providing many different kinds of books.
"In this community, we have a lot of mixed race families,” she said, “and so we're trying to serve them as well.”
Customer Sarah Reidl looks at all the children’s books and said, "You can't really browse on the internet. I like to be able to browse and look for things…that catch my eye."
For people who love reading, independent bookstores sometimes become a home.
Kristen Maier lives in Missouri, but often comes to Hooray for Books when she visits the Washington, DC area for work. She does not think electronic devices can replace the feeling of holding a real book.
“If you don’t have a nice book to pass down to your grandkids or their grandkids, you just kind of lose that sense of history and tradition for your family,” she said.
Independent bookstores know they have to sell more than books. One More Page tries to appeal to people by offering them wine or chocolate they can take home along with a book.
"We are a place where you can come for events, you can meet the writers, get books signed, and buy books you might not necessarily find on your own,” said Nebeker.
Including books by Ed Aymar, a local writer. He is talking to customers about his latest book, The Unrepentant. Nearby a woman is performing songs related to the story.
Angie Kim, another local writer, came to support Aymar.
“I’ve been here for 5 events just in the last couple of months,” she said. “I think it’s just a way to show the bookstore that we care about spaces like this and that we want them to continue.”
“We’re going to keep doing what we do well, and hope that our community loves having us around enough to support us,” Nebeker added.