Independent bookstore Patchouli Joe’s Books and Indulgences in Leander, Texas is offering shoppers who show their early voting sticker a 10% discount off most items in the store through October 30. In an interview, owners Diane and Joe Mayes said the promotion was the brainchild of one of the store’s managers, Rebekah Bluestein, “largely as a way to try and drive traffic to the store,” which is located across the street from a voting site in an area that doesn’t receive heavy foot traffic. The owners said that beyond business motivations, “we believe that voting is hugely important, particularly in this election year,” adding that with the country “facing an existential crisis,” they think “encouraging people to get out to vote is critical.”
To further that goal, the store made voter registration applications available in September and set up a display related to voting and politics, featuring titles such as Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America by Deborah Diesen, Fear by Bob Woodward and What You Need to Know About Voting and Why by Kim Wehle. “We believe that independent bookstores are modern day agoras, the Ancient Greek centers for a community’s artistic, spiritual, and political life,” both said. “In addition to being a marketplace, where merchants sold their goods, the agoras served as centers of political discourse and provided access to information. Our mission is fundamentally for Patchouli Joe’s to exist for people who need us to exist. People can get books or indulgences anywhere; but a sense of being welcomed and loved, exactly as you are, cannot be downloaded or purchased online.”
While they aren’t sure if any customers actually picked up the voter registration forms, they “had dozens of conversations with people after they saw them on display,” and believe the forms “served largely as a reminder of the importance of each person voting.”
The Mayeses said the store, which opened August 31, 2019 and sells new and used books, doesn’t tend to sell many political books, which has surprised them. The exception, they said, has been “some movement” on widely publicized titles such as Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump and The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton and, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “we sold basically everything about her (or with her image) in the store.”
They have, however seen a rise in sales of titles relating to racial justice, such as Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which, along with other titles, they offered at a 25% discount following the killing of George Floyd. They said that given that they live in a largely “white, conservative community,” they “were heartened to see people interested enough in learning about people different than them.”
The store, which was closed to in-person customers from March 24 through June 5 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, currently allows a total of 10 people, including staff, inside. This past weekend, they restarted their Saturday in-person children’s story time sessions, with masks required and a limit of four attendees. “We believe that story times are instrumental in introducing children to the magic of books. So restarting our story time in person as soon as possible was important,” they said. While prior to the pandemic, regular attendance by four to six children was routine, they had no attendees during their first week back, but they’re “optimistic” that attendance will resume in time. “We’re not sure people are quite ready to venture out for something like that but we want to be there when they are. Even if we get just one child there for story time, it’s worth it to us.”
They began a virtual book club for adults during the pandemic, and while participation has been “somewhat smaller” than the previous in-person iteration, generally six to eight people vs. 10-12, they said an “unforeseen advantage” of the remote format has been participants from across Texas and, recently, a fellow bookseller from Nebraska. They were also pleased to be able to have author T.J. Klune joining them for a discussion about novel The House in the Cerulean Sea.
The owners said they “were fortunate” that they were declared an essential business during the pandemic because they stock materials for homeschooling students, so were able to maintain payroll. While the store was closed, they began offering curbside pickup and “Patchouli Porch” home delivery, which they said were “hugely popular” through the beginning of September, with jigsaw puzzles so highly in demand “we couldn’t get them in the store fast enough to keep people stocked up.” Their bestselling pandemic non-book item has been face masks made by local people, including ones with the store’s logo on them. During that time, children’s book series and fiction sold especially well.
Upcoming promotions including Shop Small Saturday, which falls on November 28 this year, and was their second largest sales day in 2019, as well a local community holiday parade and festival. “We’re cautiously optimistic that people will be comfortable venturing out and that we’ll be able to continue to provide a safe, welcoming place in the community.”