Paul Yamazaki, chief buyer at City Lights. Kira Bindrim/REUTERS

Nestled on the corner of Columbus Avenue and “Jack Kerouac Alley,” City Lights Booksellers became a San Francisco icon in 1956, when founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti and store manager Shig Muraoas were arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Nearly 60 years later, City Lights is still breaking the mold: The store just had three of its best sales years ever.

“Independent booksellers all around the country are experiencing some of their best economic years in a long time,” said Paul Yamazaki, City Lights’ veteran chief buyer. “There’s so much choice out there that it makes readers’ heads spin, and I think they’re looking to booksellers to help them.”

Nearly 20 years after the birth of Amazon—and 15 years after Barnes & Noble was dealt a backhanded censure by the film You’ve Got Mail, independent booksellers are benefiting from their attention to personal attention. The 2011 liquidation of Borders, coupled with a nationwide “Buy Local” push to boost small businesses, have helped independent stores market themselves as a viable alternative to their mega-competitors.

“Buy Local” is not a foolproof strategy. Even indies are up against e-readers and lagging book sales. But a local approach helps smaller stores survive and, in some cases, thrive.   (more…)