I was thrilled to see one of my favorite bookstores, Farley’s located in my home town of New Hope, PA featured in The Guardian. It’s one of the jewels of the town, and thankfully a steady stream of tourist foot traffic keeps them in business. There is nothing quite like the pleasure of lost time browsing in a bookstore, and Farley’s embodies that experience completely.
Although New Hope was technically my hometown (we lived on the rural outskirts), we spent a lot of time in nearby Doylestown while I was growing up, and I really have to credit my father’s love of bar life for fostering my passion for reading, bookstores, and libraries. Once a week, he would drop us off at the library while he watched the game and had a beer (or two) at Kelly’s bar. A second stop was always Kenny’s News Agency, a tiny store selling cigarettes, candy, newspapers, magazines, and books. If we were lucky we would add some candy and a new comic would be added to the stack of library books. I will never forget the amazing feeling I had riding home each week with my new book selections bouncing on my knees, a week of reading ahead of me (even if I didn’t get through all of them). The library is where I discovered Lloyd Alexander and Edward Gorey (oh, what forbidden treasures were found there), the News Agency where I’d purchase my comic books (Archie’s and Romance) and as I got older, Heavy Metal magazines. Unfortunately, Kenny’s closed a few years ago, and it’s been decades since Kelly’s lost its neon sign pointing to the basement under Rudolph’s Army/Navy store (now a Chico’s–gag) and rebranded itself as a yuppy pub (I miss the pickled tongues in jars and sawdust on the floor–but then I’m romantic that way).
It’s been expressed many times before, but there is something about a dusty, old bookstore that just can not be replaced by Amazon and B&N, which is why we readers need to support our bookstores by at least making some of our purchases there. Also, get to know the proprietors. They are fonts of knowledge who (usually) love to share a recommendation that can send a reader into an undiscovered universe of bibliophilic pleasure. Farley’s, for example, has a poetry section of mostly self-published works (I recall some mimeographed copies back in the day) that I always check out, and purchase for the heck of it. Some of those poems have moved and amazed me, reminding me why I need to read, and buy, poetry more often.
Although some of the following are sadly no more. Here are a few of my personal favorite bookstores.
- Gotham Book Mart, New York City (deceased) With its famous sign “Wise Men Fish Here” this basement of treasures on Jeweler’s Row was the quintessence of the bookstore as salon–a place where literary talents–Gorey, Miller, Ginsberg, Burroughs to name only a few–were discovered and nurtured, and its death due to gentrification is a true tragedy, plus they used to wrap your purchase in brown paper and string–sigh. The store moved to a different location before it died completely, selling off some of its stock to U of Penn with plans to digitize it, but the essence of a shrine can’t be digitized. The fact that the city didn’t care enough to preserve it, makes me okay with no longer living there. (Rosemary Woodhouse buying witch books at the Gotham Book Mart.)
- Newtown Book and Record Exchange, Newtown, PA (still in business). I visit at least once a month to pick up a few used paperbacks. There are literally stacks of books, CDs, and records, and you can get lost for hours, or crammed into a position between two stacks that is difficult to get out of which happened to me just recently. I hope the Starbucks next door guarantees them a steady business. The proprietor is friendly and cool.
- Phoenix Bookstore and Panoply Books, Lambertville, NJ. You could make a day out of bookstore hopping starting in New Hope and crossing the bridge to Lambertville (or visa versa). Unfortunately Phoenix Bookstore is no longer with us, which is a damn shame because it used to be THE place to find strange out-of-print science fiction, horror, and occult books, and the staff was eccentric but friendly, cracking jokes with the customers. Nearly Panoply Books is more for the book collector, and it’s rarified vibe (tastefully decorated, neat and orderly) is not as inviting for browsing. If you’re looking for a gift book or a collector’s item, it’s worth a visit.
- Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon. No trip to Portland would be complete without a visit (it can take up the entire day) to Powell’s, especially if you’re looking for those hard to find 80’s horror paperbacks that I love. The place is enormous and browsing is encouraged. They appear to have a substantial online biz, so consider buying here instead of Amazon (I am–they have an awesome horror section). Here’s one of my favorite bloggers describing a recent Powell’s haul.
- Cornerstones Bookstore, Bristol, PA I was thrilled to see a new bookstore open in my town, and I pray they make it. I’ve been making a point to purchase new books there. The owner Tina is awesome, and they allow pets so it’s the perfect stop when I’m walking Lilly.
There’s nothing more pleasurable than browsing through your favorite bookstore on a rainy day (or any day). Keep them in business by supporting them with your patronage.