book stores in connecticut
Frugal Tips,  Thoughts,  Travel Diaries

Visiting all of the book stores in Connecticut for $500 in gift cards!

Guys, apparently April 28th is independent book store day. Who knew? I sure didn’t until Friday(the 27th). That’s when my buddy Facebook told me about it. It said “hey dude, check out this event your friends are interested in, it’s cool and stuff.” It was the Independent Bookstore Day Passport and it was happening in Connecticut. Apparently, 20 indie book stores in Connecticut got together and organized a cool little event.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You go to any participating bookstore and pick up a sheet. Said sheet has a map and list of all 20 stores.
  2. If you can visit 15 of the 20 stores between 4/28 and 4/29 then you win.
  3. The prize is a $25 gift card to ALL 20 stores. That means $500 total in gift cards if you can succeed.

I don’t know if that sounds sweet to you but after seeing the prize, I wanted to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day. Book stores are cool and visiting them is fun plus you get $500!

I probably wouldn’t visit 15 book stores in one day but $500 sweetens the deal quite a bit. On top of that, I’d get to explore Connecticut and get more familiar with the state.

Still, I wasn’t convinced since it was already Friday night, we had done no planning and it was a boatload of driving. Hell, the closest book store was probably an hour away. It seemed like a bit of a drag to do all that driving just for a few $25 gift cards. Plus my friends are always interested in things on Facebook and they do 0% of those things.

On the other side of the couch, I saw my girlfriend reading something. My buddy Facebook was whispering to her too “psst,” he said, “check out this cool event your lazy future husband is waffling about.

“Hey,” she said, “we have nothing to do tomorrow, we should do this book thing. If there’s two of us we’ll get $50 to each store so $1000 total.”

That’s a lot of books guys.

Planning this book store hunt

I woke up before our alarm. Honestly, I still wasn’t convinced we were going to do this thing. Much like our friends, we say we’re going to do things all the time and then don’t do them. It’s the best part of being an adult, cancelling plans.

Still, I wanted to see exactly how much driving we’d have to and while I was at it when the stores were open. I took the map and did some planning.

First, here’s the map. You can see there’s some pretty big gaps between these stores. On top of that, the first store was about an hour away from us if we started with the northwest side.

book stores in Connecticut

I crunched the numbers and did the math on the very professional sheet below. There were some stores that just didn’t fit based on location or hours so I removed them. I ended up with 16 potential stores and a boatload of driving.

time between book stores

The estimated total was 297 minutes of driving or just shy of 5 hours! That didn’t even include the trip back home so probably closer to 6 hours of overall driving.

My fiancee woke up and I told her that we were going to need to drive for like six hours but she was still on board. At this point, I was too since it’d be a fun little event. We’d get to explore Connecticut, visit a bunch of cool new bookstores and get a bunch of gift cards to boot. It was either that or sit on our butts all day.

We’re searching for book stores!

The plan was to hit the west side of the state first, move south then east once we hit the shoreline. This seemed like the most efficient path and the most sight worthy.

We packed up a few bottles of water, took the car with a full tank of gas and set off around 9 A.M. The first book store was #15 and that was about an hour away. That part of CT is very nice with lots of farmland and rolling hills.

We played cows on my side on the way. If you’re not familiar with that game, it’s a road trip game where you yell cows on my side(or “animal” on my side) when you see an animal and get a point. If you pass by the graveyard, you lose all your points. The game ends when you get to your destination. I won 3-0 but my fiancee fell asleep halfway through the trip so it wasn’t too fair.

The first book store was this cute little place in the middle of nowhere and the workers there were very nice and happy to see us. We got there around 10 and there were a few other people there with sheets to stamp. We got our sheet, got our first stamp, spent a few minutes browsing and got on the way.

The reality is that we didn’t have a ton of time to browse in a lot of these stores. We arrived at the first store at 10 A.M. and had 14 more ahead of us. The problem was that some of the stores closed at 4:30 or 5:00 so we couldn’t dawdle.

The next store wasn’t too far away but it followed a rather curvy and fun to drive road. I’ll have to come back there just to drive around for fun! This was also the last part of the trip where we actually saw any animals. I saw some cows and my fiancee saw some horses but we passed by a graveyard on my side so I lost 1-0. Drat!

I’ll mention some of the highlights of the trip as the reality is that a lot of these stores are somewhat similar. We were mainly on the lookout for used books. Unfortunately, a lot of the stores at the start just had new books. Still, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a few books to spend our $50 gift cards on when we revisit these in the future.

One of the cool things we saw early on is that some of the places had a little food set up going. There were also some free book giveaways if you spent a certain amount. One of the stores, Byrd’s Books even gave out a free little patch just for getting your sheet stamped. Yay, Harry Potter.

harry potter patch

Free stuff while getting some free stuff, I won’t complain about that! The good part about this western part of the trek was that a lot of it was off the highway. As we moved farther south into the NY adjacent CT areas, we saw a lot of beautiful homes and very nice parks. There are a few stops here that we’ll definitely return to in the future just to check out the town and walk around.

The bad part was that the western trek had a lot of long drives since a few of the stores were very far apart. After hitting #5 we stopped for lunch and had an underwhelming brunch. I’d generally post pictures of my food here but it was nothing special. Here’s a picture of our sheet at this juncture.

five stamps

Five stamps in so 1/3rd of the way there! You can see that each store has their own unique little stamp or sticker which was pretty cute. We were about 2 and a half hours into the trip now and since some of the stores later on closed early, we needed to speed up.

I drove to the next stop then we switched off for the trek across the southern part of the state since I had been driving for a few hours now. The next part was a long boring drive through the highway to reach New Haven. Once we made it from 3 to 7, we hit the two book stores around that area.

We finally found a bookstore that had some used books and picked up a Nancy Drew book that was missing from my fiancee’s collection. That was going to be the trend going forward as a lot of the stores had used books from now on. We switched up drivers again and made our way further south towards the coast.

This drive was split evenly between highway and city streets. I deviated a bit from my original plan to hit some of the stores that closed at 4:30 or 5:00 first. We ran into another cool used book store near the shore. We had made up some time by rushing through a few book stores and spend a few more minutes here.

At this point, I think we were about 12 stamps in and pretty damn tired. This was a ton of driving but we made our way to the next store then went east again to The Book Barn.

The Book Barn is a store I’ve heard about before but never visited. I might have to go back again. The place is split into four separate stores that are located close to each other. We stopped at a side location first and were guided towards the main store to get our stamp. This small location was a building that looked small from the outside but wrapped around across two floors like a maze. There were a lot of books in there.

The main store is a cool little barn and is surrounded by a few outdoor exhibits.

The place is rather charming and quite huge. Beyond the main building, there’s a ton of benches and a multitude of smaller buildings that contain even more books.

book store

There’s even a basketball hoop and some basketballs if you want to play around. You know, just in case your fiancee is taking too much time walking around. It reminded me a bit of some sort of hippy commune complete with a pen and some goats too. It’s quite a weird place but we’ll definitely visit again.

After visiting the main location and getting our 14th stamp, we drove to another location and picked up more Nancy Drew editions.

At this point the original plan was to head to the last location and grab dinner. However, it was a 45 minute drive away from home and we were already very tired. If we went there to get our final stamp, it’d be a long, long haul back. We decided to turn back and head towards home as there was a location we could swing by on the way.

The Final Stampdown!

I entered the last store like a runner finishing his marathon. Then I awkwardly shuffled around the front until a cashier came by to give me my final stamp. They had to get the manager to figure out how to handle last stamps as I was the first to finish there. I wonder if anyone finished elsewhere before me but there’s no way to tell. Perhaps I was the #1 book store hunter!

We were both tired and happy to get this finished. It was a fun trip but driving that long really wears on you! This last store was a big one but we didn’t dawdle and just wanted to get our stamp.

There it is. The final stamp sheet with my awesome 15 stamp collection. I took a picture, gave them store my name and address and left the sheet with them.

We got back in the car and headed home. It was just past 7 P.M. when we got back home.

Miles driven – 245.3.

Commute time ~ 6 hours.

Ass from couch to car back to couch time ~ 10 hours.

Tired level after completion – quite tired. It turns out that driving for 6 hours and walking around looking for bookstores or being in them wears on you!

I wish I had a picture of all the gift cards to show but I didn’t get them right then. They will be mailed in the near(far?) future to our address. It’ll be nice to finally get those in and figure out how we want to spend them.

Was it worth it?

I’d say so given that it’s $1000 worth of gift cards and that’s quite a chunk of change. I was actually impressed by the prize pool for something like this. The event gives participants two days to finish the trek to 15 stores and we did it rather easily in one.  For the frugal minded among us, things like this are a great way to save money on future expenses.

I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more events like this in surrounding states and you should too! It’s never bad to do fun things and get some money for it. Obviously, these things don’t happen too often nor are they often this good. However, I’m sure this isn’t the first event of this kind and probably not the last.

Businesses need to advertise and doing something like this can sometimes be better than spending money on traditional ads.

The one little quirk is that using these gift cards requires us to go back to these stores. Luckily a few have online stores and most are near places we’ll want to visit again. However, there are a few that are somewhat in the middle of nowhere and out of the way. That means we might not ever use those.

We generally use the library for a lot of our books but that $1,000 in gift cards will go a long way. I have a niece on the way and already have a nephew. I guess that means someone will be getting books for their birthdays for quite some time. Plus I can always pick up some investing books too and my fiancee can stock up on some more Nancy Drew books.

On top of that, it was pretty damn fun. We saw a lot of cool new places and visited some book stores we’ll definitely visit again. This was a great little event that introduced us to a lot of new places. The Book Barn and Harbor Books were our favorite but all fifteen stores we saw have something to offer if you’re ever in the area.

I’m glad I took advantage of the event and it was cool to see it happen in my neck of the woods. From talking to some of the store keepers, it seems like the event spawned in California. I wonder if it happens anywhere else besides CT or if it will happen again next year.

Anyone reading this now missed the independent book store day in 2018 but it might be worth putting on your calendar next year to see if any places near you are doing something similar.

Would I go again if it happens again in 2019?

Maybe, it was fun but  it was also rather taxing. All that driving can get pretty boring especially if I had to repeat the same trip next year. The novelty of vising new stores and new areas was a big part of the enjoyment. I guess it would depend on how much of my $500 in gift cards I’ve used. It might be a good way to restock and use at the same time if I hadn’t used them all up!

One thing I wonder is how many people actually finished. It would be interesting to see how much these indie book stores put on the line for this event. Maybe even keep track of when people finished – make it a little race! An extra prize for the top 3! Maybe that’s something they’ll do next year if the event happens.

I won’t have to worry about deciding if I want to do it again until 2019. Until then, it’s time to figure out what books I want to buy as I await the arrival of these gift cards.


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