Copyright Dennis Mitton

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Go to the link below for the fifty bookstores:

Fifty unique, Independent Bookstores From Fifty States from Culture Trip.

Bookstore Compendium

Curved BooksI missed this post from Culture Trip and have also missed ALL of the bookstores, sans one. The piece is a bookstore compendium, and who wouldn’t like that,  listing the most unique independent bookstores in each state. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these are independent and unique stores since Amazon and Barnes and Noble have taken over one-hundred-and-ten percent of the book trade. I’m sure that in 1990 Amazon would have been the most unique book store on the planet. Today, if you run an independent bookstore, you must be unique and damned good at business since you can’t compete on price alone against Amazon.  I’ve lived in several states and hoped that I had hit a few but, No. Nary a one except for Portland’s Powell’s Books, a true jewel of the Northwest.

I laughed at Illinois ‘Women and Children First’ bookstore. It’s listed as having ‘a brilliant selection of feminist and LBGTQ titles’ exactly like the ‘Women and Women First’ bookstore that takes center stage frequently on the indie television show Portlandia. (Here.)

The Red Barn

My favorite bookstore experience occurred the summer that I lived in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine. Each day, driving home from work, I saw a little sign, tacked onto an electric pole, that directed would be enthusiasts to ‘Red Barn Books’. Never one to skip a country drive or a bookstore or the satisfaction of curiosity, one morning, I turned right, and followed the trail and signs to discover a huge and ancient red barn. I was clearly the only one there and parked my car in front of the barn’s main door. A man ran out of the nearby house and said that he would open the door for me. Once inside, I was agog. This was a real live Maine hand-wrought barn and was filled to the heavy rafters with boxes of books in no discernable or identifiable order.

I don’t think this is the place but it may be. Memory plays tricks after thirty years and a brain injury!

The proprietor, and older man with messy white hair, asked if I was looking for anything. “Just snooping,” I said.

“Have at it. I buy stock when bookstores and antique stores close up. I buy by the box or by the truckload and just unload straight to the barn. There’s a good chance that you’ll find John Muir or Thoreau in the same box as a bunch of ratty romances. Take your time and have fun.”

Well, I had fun. I don’t remember what I bought but I remember walking out with a box. I remember, too, that he was right about his description of the ‘store’. It was a mess of books. A box could hold anything from jewerly to kitchen tools to books.

When I was leaving, he looked up from his yard work and counted my books. “Ten bucks,” he said. (This was in the ’80s.) “Are you from around here?”

“I’m just working in Wiscasset at the power plant. I live in Seattle,” I said.

He lit up with the word  ‘Seattle’. “Seattle,” he smiled. “Wow. My daughter lives there. Does some kind of science work downtown. Man…” He shook his head. “I love that town. Hey. You drink wine? Stay here for a sec.”

He disappeared into the house and emerged in minutes with a freshly opened bottle of rosé and tall Tupperware glasses. “Here,” he said as he handed me a glass half full. “Take one.”

I spent the next hour sitting in the drive and talking about Seattle, his red barn, and anything else we could think of. Mainers are reputed to be a crabby bunch but I found most of them, and this one, in particular, to be generous and chatty.

Another Maine Story

While on the topic, I had another head-shaking experience in a Maine bookstore. It was in an antique store in Wiscasset and I had found a couple of books that I wanted to buy. It was around lunch and I went up to the desk near the entry only to find no-one there and a penciled sign propped on the desk:

Gone to lunch. Be back soon
If you want to buy anything, the register is open.
Make change for yourself.

I looked furtively around the store and then slowly slid the drawer open, sure that I would get caught in some heinous infraction. I laughed out loud at the sight of it: there was probably a hundred bucks there. Tens, fives, ones and change. In Seattle, a fight would ensue if a cash register were found like this. It would be someone’s fault that it was open and not the shop owner’s. In New York, there might be a murder or two. But in small-town Maine? It was just a nicety. A way for the owners to leave the store open and enjoy a nice lunch. And a way for any customer to buy a couple of books. For me, it was a way to show my character.

Favorite Bookstores

Powell’s in Portland is probably my favorite bookstore. Another favorite is Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont. I was an easy jaunt for us when we lived in New York and well worth the drive.

Then there is the old standby favorite in Seattle that I have roamed for hours called Twice Sold Tales. Makes the rain a good thing as it keeps you inside. The Globe Bookstore is nice and then there is Magus Books where you are very likely to run into a member of Seattle’s Goth community. My kind of place! For anyone traveling through Gig Harbor, Washington, be sure to check out No Dearth of Books.


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