The small coastal community of Anacortes, Washington, with its gray-skied winters, is as good a place as any to curl up with a good book, and the folks here know that Brandy Bowen, owner of Watermark Book Company, can pick you out the perfect one.
"It's small enough that I know almost everyone that walks in the door. We know everyone and that feels really strong ... and people like to read, that's exciting!" she said about her adopted hometown, located 80 miles northwest of Seattle in Puget Sound.
While the store has been a staple in town for nearly 40 years, Bowen purchased it 6 years ago. It's a time that's come with many challenges.
"Well, there's this whole thing called a pandemic that happened, which there was no manual for," said Bowen. "It was a learning lesson, but it's been awesome. I love it every day. I love my job."
Bowen's clear love for her job and for the people that come to her team, looking for a new book, was noticed by someone in her community who nominated her for a $500 book bonus from famous author James Patterson.
Bowen is one of 600 independent bookstore employees being honored with a $500 check from Patterson's own money for the holiday season. In total, the 114-times New York Times bestselling author gave $300,000 to bookstore workers.
The author posted about his philanthropic action on X:
"I've said this before, but I can't say it enough—booksellers save lives. What they do is crucial, especially right now. I'm happy to be able to acknowledge them and their hard work this holiday season."
Patterson worked with the American Booksellers Association or ABA, a trade organization for independent booksellers, to give the money to employees at member bookstores.
Despite a pandemic and online megastores, independent bookstores keep opening.
Data from the ABA says bookstore openings have been rising since a big spike in closures in 2021. At 2,599 bookstores, today's count represents the most open stores since 2009.
Ask Bowen why this is and she says it's the connections that are made in bookstores, among the shelves, between customers and workers.
"We are therapists. We're huggers. we check on people's families. We're literally a third space where people come and find each other, meet each other, share with us when they have losses and when they have wins," she said.
In an extremely online world, and especially during a time where more and more of us turn to the internet to do our holiday shopping, booksellers like Bowen continue to work hard for their customers, despite the ups and downs, providing a human connection along with a new book to dive into. That's something she says she is honored to be recognized for, but the true honor for her is in the work itself, being there for her community
"We're here because of them, and we're here for them. It's always about them," said Bowen.
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