From NY to DC: A Mini Bookstore Tour

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On her way to a meeting of the Library of Congress' Reading Promotions Partners at the Center for the Book in Washington, D.C., ABA Director of Member Services Jill Perlstein stopped at several bookstores along the way to chat with their owners and snap a few photos for's photo gallery.

In a trip covering over 600 miles in a little more than two days, Perlstein stopped at six ABA member stores.

Jemma and Jack Buckley

First up was a visit with Jack and Jemma Buckley at Ninth Street Book Shop in Wilmington, Delaware. The former schoolteachers opened Ninth Street Book Shop in 1977, in a location approximately 100 feet from the present storefront. The area has changed significantly over the years, and in June 2007 Jack Buckley said that fewer than 10 percent of the businesses that were in the surrounding area when the store opened are still around. To adapt to the changing environment, the Buckleys reduced Ninth Street's inventory and changed its mix to feature fewer business books and more fiction. In spite of the reduced inventory, Buckley noted that the store was still good at having the right book for people. A selection of magazines and greeting cards also draws customers to the store.

Perlstein's next stop was Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, Maryland, a 30,000-square-foot store filled with books and cards, sports memorabilia, tableware, porcelain, crystal, fashions, teapots, and more. The business, founded in 1969 by the Baum family, began as a gift and card shop in a 1,800-square-foot space in a Towson, Maryland, strip mall. About three years ago, Greetings & Readings, which is now co-owned by the founders' son, Steven Baum, and his brother-in-law, Stephen Spund, moved to the Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Baltimore County. In a BTW feature last fall, Baum noted that each of the store's 100-plus employees works in a specific department. Staff members who sell handbags don't blow up balloons, cafe servers don't fit shoes, and only booksellers sell books.

Following the meeting at the Center of the Book, where she discussed literacy issues with like-minded organizations, Perlstein stopped at the first of two specialty stores on her route: Fairy Godmother, a children's bookstore in Washington, D.C. In contrast to the vastness of Greetings & Readings, Fairy Godmother is a small store, tucked into an old house. It's filled with books for children, from infants through teens, in English, Spanish, and French, as well as classic toys, Madame Alexander dolls, Steiff stuffed animals, CDs, DVDs, arts and crafts supplies, puppets, and more.

On the return trip was a stop at Chester County Book & Music Company, a 49,900-square-foot store featuring more than 250,000 books, 60,000 CD and DVD recordings, and a full-service restaurant, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Originally only 1,000 square feet, the store was expanded by owners Kathy and Bob Simoneaux in 1996 when its neighbor, Rainbow Records, was divesting its Pennsylvania properties. In a previous BTW article, Chester Country's Joe Drabyak explained that Kathy and Bob Simoneaux decided to buy out the record store, knock down the wall between them, and begin with a fully stocked, ready made music department. Today, the recordings include a range from pop, rock, rap, and R&B to classical, jazz, blues, country, and world music. The music area also stocks a wide selection of specialty import titles and DVDs. Befitting Pennsylvania's importance in the upcoming Democratic presidential primary, when Perlstein stopped at Chester County, the store featured two displays to help voters chose candidates: one of books by politicians and the other, in a different section, by the pundits.

In Hillsborough, New Jersey, Perlstein met with Chicklet Books owner Deb Hunter, who is not letting a broken ankle keep her from the funky book boutique, which she opened in December 2004. With a hot pink, purple, apple green, turquoise, and polka dot interior, comfy chairs, and window seats, Hunter has created a distinctive environment in 1,300 square feet of space. In September 2007, Hunter opened a second Chicklet Books in Princeton, New Jersey, in 3,000 square feet of selling space upstairs and 6,000 square feet downstairs. She also owns Glen Echo Books in Princeton, New Jersey, and Unique & Novel (a wholesaling business).

The last stop on Perlstein's tour was Divine Inspirations, a bookstore and wellness center founded by Gloria Brown in 2005 in Nutley, New Jersey. In a 2,000-square-foot space, Brown helps people find their way to physical and spiritual health through books and instruction in the healing arts. The store sells books, candles, incense, CDs, DVDs, and more. And in a 400-square-foot room that Brown has designated as the wellness center, Divine Inspirations offers classes in everything from belly dancing and yoga to herbal medicine, diet, and other types of healing.

At the Center for the Book

Each year, the Center for the Book convenes a meeting of Reading Promotion Partners for an "idea exchange." This year's meeting, moderated by librarian and historian John Y. Cole, brought 45 partners to the Library of Congress' James Madison Memorial Building on Wednesday, March 12.

The purpose of the day's discussion was to share information about each organization's reading and literacy promotion activities. The meeting also provided opportunities to network. Among the programs that have grown out of previous meetings was ABA's Prescription for Reading promotion. Relationships with other organizations, such as the Children's Book Council, the American Library Association, and the Association of American Publishers, have also been strengthened by participation. At last week's meeting, each organization reported on its literacy efforts and ways in which the other participants could help.

Perlstein spoke about ABA's mission and how independent booksellers are key in communities looking to encourage reading and literacy. She also encouraged the attendees to search out independent bookstores and to shop locally.