It's Amazon Prime Day, so here are our favorite independent stores

It's Amazon Prime Day, so here are our favorite independent stores

A sweet Rian Johnson T-shirt from SuperYaki
Photo: SuperYaki
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

With Amazon Prime Day in full swing and COVID-19 shutting down independent businesses left and right, we thought it would be nice to shout out some of our favorite independent retailers as the holiday season approaches. Some are brick and mortar and some are online only, but all would surely appreciate your business. So we’re asking:

What are your favorite independent retailers?

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2 / 10

Amoeba Music

Amoeba Music

I have such fond memories of walking around the video store when that was a thing we all still did. My family often ran right to the new releases we’d been waiting for months to see, but there were days we weren’t sure what we wanted and just browsed, finding older or lesser-known titles we never would have discovered otherwise. There are so many movies I never ended up watching but feel like just from looking at the cover art so many times over the years. (But I’m A Cheerleader comes first to mind.) I spent college in a pop culture black hole in terms of access to good brick-and-mortar stores, so it came as a huge relief when I moved close to Amoeba Music in Hollywood. Although its name highlights its vast music library, the massive store housed everything from rare posters and books to the latest 4k Blu-rays—and because it had a trade-in/sale option, there were always fantastic rare finds hidden around the store, little treasures accidentally shelved among the Funko pops or vintage lunch boxes. I’d always leave after an hour or two with a handful of gifts for family and friends, and a few for myself. It was sad to see the location here in Los Angeles and the two in the Bay Area close at the start of the pandemic, but the San Francisco location has reopened and the Hollywood store, after relocating up the street from its massive Sunset and Highland storefront, is scheduled to open soon. Until then, I’ll have to keep perusing their website while sitting near my bookshelves just to get some of the sense memory. [Patrick Gomez]

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3 / 10

Seminary Co-Op Bookstores

Seminary Co-Op Bookstores

Former first lady Michelle Obama at a book signing at the Seminary Co-Op in 2018.
Former first lady Michelle Obama at a book signing at the Seminary Co-Op in 2018.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

Last year, Seminary Co-Op changed its business model and became the only nonprofit bookstore in the country whose mission is centered around bookselling. When bookstores operate as nonprofits, they usually support causes apart from selling books, like promoting literacy or fighting homelessness, e.g. But at Seminary Co-Op, they believe the act of browsing for books is itself a cultural good. This is an easy case for Seminary and its sister store, 57th Street Books (both of which are located in Chicago’s Hyde Park), to make. In addition to carrying academic books for its neighbor, the University of Chicago, the Co-Op has a selection that goes far beyond the latest bestseller or book club pick, occupying territory decidedly more intellectual and curious (endcap displays are dedicated to NYRB volumes or the greatest hits from Dalkey Archive). To say nothing of the space itself: The Co-Op’s stacks are staggered back and back into the store, one leading to the next, labyrinthian yet airy. Browsing in person at Seminary is not an option now, but in the meantime, buying a book or two or three online says that you care about bookstores as much as they do. [Laura Adamczyk]

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4 / 10

Rattleback Records

Rattleback Records

Rattleback Records
Rattleback Records
Screenshot: YouTube

In addition to supporting some crucial coalitions like the Chicago Independent Venue League (check them out!), I share Patrick’s concern for a beloved local record store. Mine doesn’t have anywhere near the fame or cache as Amoeba, though, which makes support for it all the more vital. Rattleback Records is a small little nook of a record store near my Uptown stomping grounds, but it’s the definition of a friendly local business doing their best to help its customers with the kind of personal touch that is hard to find. (Yes, these are record store employees who are super friendly, even if you, say, came in looking for “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”) They’ve managed to move that sense of camaraderie online, with one of the better organized websites for searching their catalog, ordering by mail, or scheduling either in-store pickup or curbside for the more cautious folks. And sign up for their email newsletter—they do a monthly trivia contest with free music as the reward! Every time I’m about to lazily click over to Amazon to buy some music, I catch myself and head to Rattleback instead. They’ll call you back promptly with any questions, and I’ve never once had anything but super-quick service, often paired with some insightful recommendations or curiosity about other bands I’m currently listening to. Speaking of which, guys, I think I’m gonna need that vinyl copy of Automatic For The People sooner rather than later. [Alex McLevy]

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5 / 10

I Luv Video

I Luv Video

Technically, it’s too late to support I Luv Video, unless you want to buy a T-shirt. The last video store standing in Austin shut down in early September—just five months after the closure of its longtime, campus-area counterpart, Vulcan Video—the real-estate market and COVID-19 finishing a job that streaming had started a decade or so earlier. But it’s not too late to support the I Luv Video library. Approximately 120,000 films accumulated across the store’s 35 years in operation are seeking someone with the means to keep the collection together, and possibly even accessible to the public. Are you that person? Here’s a phone number to call. Remember, prospective preservationists: We lose a little bit of film history every time a new distribution format is introduced—movies on VHS that never made it to DVD, let alone Netflix. You (and your presumed, vast expanse of storage space) can help put a stop to such losses. [Erik Adams]

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6 / 10

Various cinephile web portals

Various cinephile web portals

The options for cinephile merch are as varied and niche as an individual’s taste in movies. Super Yaki has built a devoted following for its unabashed love of, and playful advocacy for, popcorn cinema of the ’90s and ’00s, while tees-en-scene stumps for women in film, from the arthouse to the multiplex. Cinemetal also shouts out famous directors, but in the style of band logos; Rough Cut Fan Club, on the other hand, prints garish poster art from grindhouse films in a punk-influenced collage style. Then there’s Last Exit To Nowhere, whose shirts take a more winking approach by screen-printing famous fictional logos—a Weyland-Yutani shirt, for example, or a Wyld Stallyns ’88 tour tee. And that’s not even getting into the plethora of horror-specific companies that have emerged within the subculture over the past decade: I’m biased toward Chicago-based Creepy Co., which makes blankets and button-ups as well as T-shirts and hoodies. [Katie Rife]

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7 / 10

Vroman’s Bookstore

Vroman’s Bookstore

I try and shop independent as much as possible, but I admit I’m no saint: I have twin toddlers, and just hitting “purchase” on Amazon can be a lot easier than schlepping to multiple stores in search of a 2T lion costume or a used copy of a book I couldn’t find at the library. Still, I’ve been trying to be better about shopping local, especially during the pandemic when I know so many small businesses are struggling. Case in point: my local bookstore, Vroman’s. It’s a great place, with lots of amazing live events and a cute hangout for kids. But the pandemic hit it hard, and the store recently said it’s in danger of closing. From what I’ve heard, the response to the news has been overwhelming, and they’ve gone from taking 60 online orders a day to about 1,000, but I’m still not sure whether that will heal the pain of months upon months without customers. Even if Vroman’s is okay, I’d suggest finding your local bookstore—or an indie retailer like Vroman’s or Powell’s—and ordering books there once in a while. It could make a big difference. [Marah Eakin]

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8 / 10

The Ripped Bodice

The Ripped Bodice

The pandemic killed my annual trip to L.A. this year. But as soon as it’s safe to head across the country, the first place I’m visiting is The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, the only bookstore on the West Coast that exclusively houses romance books. The product of a successful Kickstarter, the eccentric shop is owned by sisters Leah and Bea Koch, who are dedicated to selling an actual range of romance stories. COVID has put a temporary stopper on some of the cool amenities, like the cushy seated areas and the tea service, but shoppers can still browse the store’s lengthy list of titles and merch online or (very carefully) in person. Also, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the variety, you can ask the owners to set you up on a “blind date” with a book, where they choose a title for you. Much like my heart, my cart is full. [Shannon Miller]

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9 / 10

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

There’s never a bad time to treat yourself (or, sure, your friends and family) to some Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. The crown jewel of Columbus, Ohio, this homegrown ice cream company has expanded its footprint—with scoop shops in 14 cities, and pints sold at retailers nationwide—without sacrificing quality or its commitment to the community that helped make it any foodie’s guilty pleasure. With both classic and decadently inventive flavors (Gooey Butter Cake, I bow down to thee), the key to Jeni’s addictiveness is its emphasis on texture, with recipes that produce the smoothest, creamiest, brightest ice creams you’ve ever tasted. Seriously. Luckily for all of us, Jeni’s makes it incredibly easy to ship their pints nationwide, so it’s only a matter of days before happiness can arrive at your doorstep in a bright orange box. [Cameron Scheetz]

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10 / 10