Independent Bookstore Day, a nationwide celebration of the joy of browsing in locally owned bookshops, returns on Saturday, April 30 — and, to the delight of many former Bookstore Champions (including yours truly), the Passport Challenge returns as well. It looks, of course, a little different this year, but let’s be happy that it’s back at all, and that despite two-years-plus of pandemic disruption, we still have such a wealth of indie bookstores in the area.

For several years pre-COVID-19, Seattle Independent Bookstore Day meant a mad, delightful rush. Those who met the Passport Challenge — visiting every participating bookstore in one day and getting their passport stamped — would earn the title of Bookstore Champion and a 25% discount at every participating store, all year round. The task wasn’t easy, as the 20+ stores were far-flung: Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, Edmonds, Redmond, Burien, as well as all over Seattle. But the number of people completing it grew exponentially, from 42 in 2015 (the first year) to 636 in 2019.

It was not only an opportunity for bookbuyers to win a valuable prize, but for bookstores, particularly the smaller ones, to welcome a flock of new customers, many of whom might remember the store and return on a less-crowded day. Chris Jarmick, owner of BookTree in Kirkland, told me in 2020 that a typical pre-pandemic Bookstore Day might bring more than 800 customers into his compact store, many of whom would buy something. But those very crowds were why Bookstore Day was scaled down drastically (and moved to August) in 2020, and still cautiously modest last year, with a 10-day, 10-store format in place of the Passport Challenge.

Now the time seemed right to bring the full challenge back, said Seattle Bookstore Day organizer Erin Ball, general manager of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. “We missed it as much as readers missed it,” she said. After surveying the member bookstores, Ball’s committee decided on a new twist. “We still have some of our smaller shops a little concerned about packing people in,” Ball said, so the challenge is now 10 days long, and the prize a little less grand, but still a treat: 25% off on one purchase per store, anytime in the coming year.

And the good news is that the event’s roster has grown. This year’s list of 24 stores includes three newcomers: BookIt Nook in Poulsbo, Three Trees Books in Burien, and The Wise Owl Books & Music in Seattle. With the exception of The Traveler on Bainbridge, whose owners closed the shop in 2020 after 25 years in business, every store represented in pre-COVID days is still on the roster. The pandemic has, in fact, seen a rise in independent bookstores, particularly in this region: Brian Juenemann of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association confirmed in an email that 2020-21 saw an increase in member stores of approximately 20%. Nationally, the American Booksellers Association reported an increase from May 2020 to May 2021 of about 4%.

“I do feel like despite how difficult these last few years have been, we’ve only had more support from our communities, more and more,” said Ball. “I think that’s part of why we continue to grow.”

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Logistics for those who want to tackle the revamped Passport Challenge: Passports can be picked up in participating stores starting on Bookstore Day. You must visit every store listed (though in the case of stores with multiple outlets, like Third Place Books or Phinney Books/Madison Books, you only need one), and you’re not required to make a purchase, though of course the stores encourage shopping. Completed passports need to be dropped off at a participating bookstore by end of day May 9. For more information, see seattlebookstoreday.com.

Bookstore Day also brings festivities for those who only plan to visit one store: Most are planning a party atmosphere, with special prizes and treats.

Ball said she isn’t sure whether the new 10-day format will be a permanent change; it’ll depend, she says, on what public health guidelines look like. But she’s hoping the new format will bring many new Bookstore Champions, celebrating the health of our vibrant bookstore community. In the past, she said, “the one complaint we’ve always heard is that one day is not doable for everyone. This makes it a little more accessible.”

Seattle Independent Bookstore Day

Bookstore Day is April 30, with special events at all participating stores; the Passport Challenge extends through May 9. Stores participating in the Passport Challenge this year are Ada’s Technical Books (Seattle), Arundel Books (Seattle), BookIt Nook (Poulsbo), Book Larder (Seattle), Booktree (Kirkland), Brick & Mortar Books (Redmond), Eagle Harbor Book Co. (Bainbridge Island), Edmonds Bookshop (Edmonds), Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle), Fantagraphics Bookstore (Seattle), Liberty Bay Books (Poulsbo), Island Books (Mercer Island), Madison Books/Phinney Books (Seattle), Magnolia’s Bookstore (Seattle), The Neverending Bookshop (Edmonds), Open Books: A Poetry Emporium (Seattle, newly relocated to Pioneer Square), Page 2 Books (Burien), Paper Boat Booksellers (West Seattle), Queen Anne Book Company (Seattle), Secret Garden Books (Seattle), Third Place Books (Seattle/Lake Forest Park), Three Trees Books (Burien), University Bookstore (Seattle), Wise Owl Books & Music (Seattle). Information: seattlebookstoreday.com

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