1. Friendly staff: alright this one isn't universally true, but I used to live near where everyone knew me. The staff always said hello and over the years I got to know them and they got to know me. When one of our friends retired, we were sad to see her go and still keep in touch with her. Today, I can still walk in that store once or twice a year and start up a conversation with the staff as if I never left.
2. A cultivated selection: there area my books which you might not be able to find at a smaller book store, but because the books are carefully selected you have a higher probability of picking up a good one. I'd much rather havd fewer books that are interesting than the Costco version of books. I belong to a book club at one store where they hand pick a selection for me each month based on my interests. I've discovered done great writers this way. And with a cultivated bookshelf I can pi k something up for a present and feel fairly confident that it will be good. And for the books they don't have, I can usually order them.
3. An element of fun: good bookstores celebrate books. Some have author messages written on the walls from all the book signings; others do socials like a mystery book exchange or sale; others play with whimsy in their names or events. Either way, bookstores that can enjoy the joy of books are great places to be.
4. Authenticity: whether crowded with books so you have to squeeze through the aisles sideways or filled with light, there is an intangible quality of authenticity in good independent bookstores that makes you want to be there. It is almost refreshing; the authenticity in the large corporate jungle. And I wish I could describe it better. For me it's a feeling of being comfortable, of knowing I can browse comfortably for hours and come away with a new book that I am going to get lost in.
5. A comfortable place to curl up: I love a store that has a cozy seating area to browse and choose, because let's be honest, not only do I intend to buy a book, I also want lots of time to browse and a cozy place to do it in.
I've been fortunate to live near some great independent bookstores (see my posthere about some of my favorites). There is a comfort in being surrounded by books which can take you away to another world, provide solace in well-written characters, or put big ideas into compelling stories. So, thank you to all the great bookstores out there. I'll be in to visit soon.