For love or for money: Opening a bookstore
Maybe I’m getting all gooey because WORD Bookstore put up its new sign in Jersey City this week, or because Valentine’s Day is coming up, or whatever, but the right article by the right writer can make independent bookselling sound romantic.
Kelly McMasters wrote just such an article for The Paris Review Daily about her decision to open Moody Road Studios in small town Pennsylvania:
What I hadn’t anticipated was the mix of envy, horror, and sympathy that crossed people’s faces when hearing this news. Fellow writers and artists would get all moony on us, share their own personal bookstore fantasy, or ask to come work for us. We were so lucky! We were heroes! But we also got the same incredulous question over and over: Why would you open a bookstore now?! I try to explain that it is a little like falling in love, that we really didn’t have a choice. The space was open, the price was right, and one morning over coffee my husband and I looked at one another and said at the same time: We’re opening a bookshop! Four weeks later, we did.
Ann Patchett has been one of the most vocal proponents of independent bookstores as of late (Incidentally, a cashier recently confirmed for me that the name of Patchett’s store was partly inspired by Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, the ultimate bookstore fantasy novel):
The bookstore of my youth was Mills … If I wanted to re-create that kind of bookstore, one that valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans, a store that recognized it could not possibly stock every single book that every single person might be looking for, and so stocked the books the staff had read and liked and could recommend—if I wanted to re-create the bookish happiness of my childhood, then maybe I was the person for the job.
As Sam Sacks wrote last fall, “Bookstores are human places — they are extensions of the personalities of the men and women who operate them … Bookstores are, in essence, personal libraries. In this way, they are macrocosms of the books they contain — there is life inside them.”
In related news, Julianne Aguilar has culled together notes found in second hand books in her project, “Together, As Always.”
Or, if you’re skeptical of all this bookselling business, might I refer you to George Orwell? Books make him think of dead bugs …
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.