Work isn’t the best place to express yourself. Once a marketer asked for input from everyone concerning their favorite independent bookshop. Well, I might’ve gone a bit overboard, admittedly. I listed several, each with their attributes. I was living in New Jersey at the time so The Bookworm in Bernardsville and The Labyrinth in Princeton featured large. But so did Farley’s in New Hope. And the Clinton Book Shop in, well, Clinton. Then my mind roved to the unfortunately deceased River Front Books in Binghamton. Then back to Wisconsin where we lived within walking distance from Books and Company. Then to Illinois before that, where Pages for All Ages was a hangout. We’re spoiled here in the Lehigh Valley with the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Book and Puppet in Easton, Let’s Play books in Emmaus, and plenty of used bookstores about. And the Montclair Bookshop back in New Jersey—okay, I told you I went a bit overboard.
Ithaca, New York, is the very definition of a college town. Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, it has a sizable student population. It once boasted seventeen bookstores. By the time we’d started visiting they were down to one indie new book store (Buffalo Street Books) and two used bookstores. Since then one of the used stores has closed. Like a phoenix, however, a new indie has opened: Odyssey. On a recent trip to Ithaca we stopped in. During a pandemic I feel compelled to make trips short, but there was a lot to see there. Like most indies, it’s small. As Andrew Laties notes in Rebel Bookseller, such shops thrive by becoming part of the community, and stocking books the community will buy.
Our visit, I suspect, proves his point. If you set up shop in a university town you can stock intelligent books and make a living at it. Despite the weather and the virus we weren’t the only customers in the store. And we didn’t leave empty-handed. The independent bookstore is a symbol of hope. Books are not clutter. Literacy is not dead! As much as our beloved internet tries to tell us the future is digital, I like to open the door and step outside once in a while. And leave my phone behind. During this pandemic I’ve gone to four kinds of stores only: grocery, drug/necessity, hardware, and book stores. The pandemic has been a shot in the arm for trade books—bored with staring at screens all day, people are starting to read actual books again. I’m not naive enough to think it will last beyond Covid-19, but I just remembered Watchung Booksellers in Montclair and the Town Book Store in Westfield…