Nestled between a shoe repair shop and a hair salon, it had been there for as long as I could remember. It had everything a bookstore has to have, including a store cat. I have vague memories of sitting on the floor in the back of the shop where they had a children’s area with blocks and puzzles and asking the cat for advice on a puzzle, or reading out loud to him.
As I grew older, of course, my perceptions changed and it became the bookstore.
It boasted a collection of new and used books. The store was full of the tangy scent of fresh ink and the lovely musty odor unique to used books. Not the used books that are so often the staple of used bookstores today—no these were old books, ancient tomes collected at estate sales and other wonderful places. Books with a story to tell—not just what was written in the book, but the book itself told a tale. Some even had the treasure of the former owner’s names and the date it was received.
Then there were the extra special ones—the ones with the notes handwritten in the margins. For me those were always like the original owner was sharing a secret with me, something we had in common. I still treasure those books. My collection of travel books from the Victorian Era started in that book shop and the very first book I purchased had those secret notes. I still remember one on a page about travel to Egypt, the owner of the book had written “camels are not a pleasant creature.” That tiny thing tied me to the original owner. I felt like I knew him and had shared that adventure with him.
One of the wonderful things was the new books were tucked in with the used ones, so you could find a first edition of Arthur C. Clarke next to a new paperback edition of the same book. It was a wondrous way to discover books I didn’t even know existed. I usually went there with a book in mind, and left with three extra spanning everything from history and science fiction to herbalism and cooking.
The sad thing is, bookstores like this one have mostly gone the way of the dinosaur, wiped out by giant asteroids of the big box bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Nobles. I miss them, I miss sitting on the floor surrounded by a collection of books some dating from the 1800s and some brand new. I miss finding those gems with notes from a secret friend. And I am sad that there are generations that will never be able to discover this magical lost world.