Sunday, April 27, 2008

Neighborhood Bookstores

I don't live in Mt. Airy, a Philadelphia neighborhood, but I wish I did.  I live in the great wash of suburbia, where I can buy ANYTHING within five minutes of my house (although it may take 20 minutes to get there and another fifteen minutes to find a place to park), and this ANYTHING includes a Borders and a Barnes & Noble.  So why do I look forward to going to a tiny bookstore in a Philly neighborhood forty minutes from my neighborhood?  Because my coop is there, they have a "green" home improvement shop, and the Big Blue Marble Bookstore - a small business, a neighborhood bookstore where you may not find 40 copies of the latest best seller, but you will find folks who can tell you about the inventory because they've read almost everything in the store.  They have local poets showcased each month and there is usually a hidden gem found in the tall shelves. It's the type of bookstore that was on every main street 10 to 15 years ago - where the merchants knew what types of books you liked and could make a recommendation for you, or even better, hold a book off to the side when you made your weekly(daily) visit.

I had such a bookstore behind my first house, and I spent many a happy Saturday morning there, finding a wide range of books that I stacked next to my favorite chair and ploughed through when I would get home from work.  What I love about BBM is the lovely rickety-ness of it.  It has multiple floors - it was an old house - and there's a little cafe on the second floor that has a lovely little roof deck where you can sit with a cup of coffee on a nice day.  It's big enough to find books that is off the beaten track, but small enough not to be overwhelming. 

While I appreciate the convenience of the megastores, I just prefer the intimacy of a neighborhood shop.  I am old enough to remember accompanying my mother to Kotlikoff's department store in Camden, NJ, which was really just a two story building that had slanted floors and "sensible" clothing for children.  I remember the Peace Shop across the street from the local pharmacy where my mother worked. It was a jean shop/head shop/poster store owned by two hippies.  I begged for two months to move beyond Sears Toughskins jeans to a pair of hip hugging LandLubber jeans and Earth Shoes that were part of the uniform of the mid '70s.

The notion that your world can be serviced within a several block radius is attractive to me.  I like the idea of not having to use my car to run every errand, but biking in my neck of the woods is dangerous because of all of the locals driving humongous SUV's while chatting on their cell phones.  My sister lives in the city and has lived for years without ever having to learn how to drive.  She can get where she needs by walking, the subway or a cab.  I can understand why so many retirees in my area are moving back to the city - it is convenience, entertainment and quality of life.  I would love to take advantage of that. My goal is to one day move back to what is now called a walkable urban environment  - what I know as a city neighborhood.  My kids are teenagers, not the optimum time to move them, but my head and heart are in the city.  When the youngest graduates, the for sale sign goes up.

1 comment:

maggie, dammit said...

I've worked four hours a week at a tiny independent bookshop for the past six years. There's no place better on earth.

This post made me grin.