Midtown Reader in Tallahassee, Florida created a wonderfully entertaining and instructive promotional video that emphasizes the power of "Actual Intelligence" over "Artificial Intelligence." In the video, a man asks an artificially intelligent device for book recommendations, to which the device responds with a series of unhelpful answers. The man then visits Midtown Reader, where a friendly bookseller quickly ascertains which book he is looking for (he can’t remember the title, only the illustration on the cover) and shows him where it is. The bookseller’s name? Alexis. (Her name is actually Alexis, and she’s an actual Midtown Reader bookseller.)
Fundamental to the mission of Midtown Reader is a belief that independent bookstores remain cultural treasures because they offer something online retailers cannot. In a brick-and-mortar bookstore with flesh-and-blood booksellers, recommendations are both personal and powered by actual intelligence (as opposed to the artificial variety). What’s more, with regular events like author readings and book clubs, independent bookstores function as community spaces where people can connect over stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Midtown Reader was opened in November of 2016 by Sally Bradshaw, who, after a career in politics, decided to make her childhood dream of owning a bookstore a reality.
“My sister and I spent many hours in our small Mississippi Delta hometown at both our local library and our neighborhood bookstore, sadly long gone now, a victim of Amazon,” Bradshaw wrote in the store’s email newsletter. “Books led me to believe I would grow up to be a detective (thank you Nancy Drew), or a lawyer (thank you Atticus Finch). Ultimately, I settled on public policy, and left home with dreams of changing the world in the political arena. I never imagined that my best and lasting chance to change the world would come in a bookstore.”
After only three years in business, Midtown Reader has become a “destination bookstore” and a bustling community space, with multiple events every week and meaningful partnerships with community organizations and non-profits across Tallahassee. Bradshaw believes that it’s this kind of connectedness, along with caring, knowledgeable booksellers and warm, personal customer service, that make independent bookstores disruptive in an age of online retailers and invaluable always.