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The first Hampton Roads Bookstore Crawl started Sunday and wraps up in time for Independent Bookstore Day on April 29.

Eleven local independent bookstores, or indies, are participating to spread the word about what they bring to Hampton Roads.

Erin Dougherty owns Eleanor’s Norfolk. She organizes events all year long — three book clubs, a queer writers’ meetup, yoga classes, and a mutual aid network. She came up with the bookstore crawl, and sees it as a way to unite the stores as well as their respective communities.

“Like there's Prince Books, there are small businesses who have that community, I just want to broaden that and bring it together in a more cohesive way,” Dougherty said. “Where it's not just like the Local Heroes crowd and the, you know, Eleanor's crowd, but we see each other and we're like, Hey, we're in this together.”

Participants get a “passport” at the first shop they stop at, and every location they visit will give them a stamp. At their last bookstore, they’ll leave their passport — and be entered into a raffle to win a prize basket. The more bookstores participants visit, the more entries they’ll have in the raffle.

Independent bookstores offer multiple ways for people to come together — not just through traditional books.

“It was a lady that came in the store the other day and she wanted to know if we had audio books,” said Tikesha Williams, owner of Paperbacks Ink in Newport News. “We had a whole lot of audio books.”

The woman, who Williams said is partially blind, has come back three times since.

“She told us that the libraries don't carry them anymore … She loved reading a book back in the day, but she can't do it as well now, so she's able to use audiobooks,” Williams said.

Williams bought Paperbacks Ink last November – the store’s been around for forty years, weathering the rise of Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

“I always wanted to own a bookstore,” she said.

Thirty years ago, stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble took the bookselling world by storm. They opened locations all over, lowballing book prices and sending local bookstores out of business.

Fifteen years later, Amazon did the same to them. Borders failed; Barnes & Noble reorganized how it appealed to customers.

And indies came back.

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Williams said her shop provides recourse for those readers who feel left behind by online shopping and big box stores. She recently asked a man in her store why he decided to shop at Paperbacks Ink rather than order online.

“He said that he liked the hunt of the book,” Williams said.

“It was more fun for him to go to different places and try to find it. So he started with our store and we didn't have it. And he had plans on going to the other bookstores,” she said. “His last resort would be to try to order it online or go to a big box store to get it.”

Kristin Hildum, owner of Read Books in Virginia Beach, said indies give people autonomy.

“There's a lot of things we can't control in our life right now, and maybe we never could,” Hildum said. “But our reading life is something that we can, that is all our own. Nobody can take it from us, although they try.”

Calls for banning books have gotten louder across the nation. In Virginia, some advocates have threatened to defund libraries if their banning requests are denied.

But independent bookstores aren’t restricted by city councils or school boards.

Hildum sees enough traffic at her shop near the Oceanfront every summer that she’s opening a second location in Pungo. Her shop hosts three different book clubs, and she partners with other local businesses for book-themed events. Read Books’ main location is actually inside the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art — a product of a conversation with MOCA about its shifting mission.

Heather Fine has worked at Read Books in Virginia Beach for about a year. To her, indies feel like places of belonging — something you can’t feel ordering off a website.

“They bring a place of safety, and a place of feeling like people can be seen in the ways they want to be seen,” Fine said.

“You know, it gives that feeling of comfort… And no matter who you are, you can find a book that can let you feel like you're a part of something bigger.”

The Hampton Roads Bookstore Crawl wraps up Saturday, April 29. For more information, visit