My local bookstore is two miles from our house. It occupies a corner in an old-fashioned plaza in the center of town. Book displays fill the front picture windows, always modest, always inviting. The wooden front door is pleasantly solid and old-fashioned and often filled with flyers announcing author visits or neighborhood events. The store itself is long and narrow, brimming with staff favorites, local authors’ latest works, and bestsellers. Interspersed among the books are greeting cards, literary gifts, and word games. There is a small bowl of candy by the register and no one seems to care if you take more than one.
If you look up as you walk the length of the store, you’ll see walls painted with the names of famous authors — inspiration to read overlooked classics or revisit an old favorite. Staff picks fill a table — there is always something I’ve never heard of. You can get a drink in the attached coffee shop and browse the travel or cooking sections while you finish a muffin. Just try not to get crumbs on the floor.
The children’s area is in the back, filled with sunlight from the large windows that stretch the width of the store. There are stools, and comfortable chairs, and plenty of books in reach of pudgy fingers. A small basket of toys sits on the floor to distract the non-readers. Early mornings are often filled with strollers and caregivers and the singsong cadence of storytime. The staff knows my son and welcomes him by name. They remember what grade he’s in and suggest books that challenge him just the right amount.
The owner has a musical name and is a legend among authors and publishers. She has shepherded her store through recessions and the rise of online retail and local zoning issues, perfectly balancing the needs of a business with the needs of a community. During busy hours, people maneuver past each other, patiently waiting for their turn at the single register. Gift cards come in white Chinese take-out containers tied with ribbons. You don’t need a receipt to return a book; a small sticker on the back covering the price is all that’s required.
In an age of mass market everything, our local bookstore is an oasis.
You can buy books anywhere, of course. There are bigger stores, with larger displays and fancier coffee and more parking. Thanks to the Internet, you can buy everything from Chaucer to Big Nate without ever leaving your home. It’s anonymous and efficient and you can shop in your pajamas. But when it comes to books, I don’t want anonymity. I want a place where people gather. Where we stop to talk about what’s going on in our lives, in our families, our schools, and our neighborhoods. I’m looking for cozy and familiar and welcoming. I want to ask for recommendations from people who read voraciously and know what I like. I want more than one piece of candy before I leave.
Books are more than words, they’re experiences, and where you buy them from can sometimes be as memorable and special as the stories themselves.