Why should people shop at an indie bookstore?
That’s the question upon which The Bookstour, a 30-minute documentary by Mason Engel, a self-published author from Indiana, was created. And in it, Greensboro’s own Scuppernong Books, makes an appearance.
After experimenting with online marketing, Engel wanted to try a new approach to advertising his science fiction novel 2084. In March 2019, he set out on a road trip to promote the book,available solely through Amazon.
“The idea I had was to promote it in brick-and-mortar bookstores which led to my trip from Indiana to California and back visiting 50 indie bookstores in 50 days,” he says.
His tight budget of $1,000 went towards food, gas and car maintenance. To save money, Engel’s car became his sleeping quarters at times.
“I slept on friends’ couches and when I couldn’t find couches, I found a Walmart parking lot and just crashed in my car,” he remembers.
Along the way, Engel gained a new perspective, switching gears from talking about himself to listening to others, and the idea of The Bookstour came to mind.
“After a dozen or so stores and being received so warmly by the booksellers, despite the fact I was promoting a novel that was available only through Amazon, their direct competitor, and just feeling that acceptance in these places, it just made me curious about the industry,” he says.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Engel realized indie bookstores and other local businesses needed the most support they’ve ever gotten. During the summer of 2020, Engel enlisted the help of cameraman Brayden Williams to document the stories of independent bookstores in various cities along the East coast, using the bookstore locator on the website Indie Bound to find locations. In the end, Engel and Williams visited stores in Boston and D.C. and other cities in 17 days.
Once in North Carolina, the men were forced to find an alternative after a cancellation from a bookstore in Durham. That is when Engel found Scuppernong.
“Scuppernong was unique in that we didn’t actually schedule to go there initially because it wasn’t directly on our route,” he says.
After a quick Indie Bound search, he called Steve Mitchell, co-owner of Scuppernong, and nailed a last-minute interview with him with just an hour of notice. They rushed to S. Elm Street, and as the store was near closing, they conducted a 12-minute interview with Mitchell.
He agreed to do the interview after experiencing the difficulties of trying to maintain a small business firsthand.
“Every indie bookstore in the country was worried about whether they were gonna be able to survive the pandemic,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell says he appreciates how the film not only highlights indie bookstores, but how they interact with the community around them.
To Engel, the essential theme of the film is the one thing independent bookstores offer that big-box stores don’t: human connection. While sitting down with bookstore owners and employees, Engel realized face-to-face interaction is a necessity, especially now.
“It’s all the more important right now because we’re emerging from the pandemic,” he says.
Mitchell expects the film will lead to more support as people learn to treasure the local businesses they enjoy.
“I think one of the things the pandemic did was make people realize they really like their favorite restaurants and bookstores and places to go in their town because they suddenly couldn’t go there anymore,” Mitchell says.
Proceeds from the film will be donated to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which donates to bookstores and other small businesses facing hardship, an act Mitchell is grateful for.
“Local businesses need support to stay open,” he stresses.
Engel agrees, and during filming, he asked store owners why people should support indie bookstores.
“Why should people care?” he asked. “We got some great answers. I’m excited to share those with folks in the film.”
The Bookstour is available for preorder until July 7 at thebookstourfilm.com. Scuppernong Books is now fully open to the public. Visit at 304 S. Elm St in Greensboro.