On NPR this morning, they mentioned that a "Curious George" toy store will be returning to Harvard Square, noting that the old Curious George bookstore/toystore went out of business a year or two ago. Hearing this on my morning walk, I began to think about bookstores, past and present, and wondering if they have a future.
Bookstores are markers in my life. To note a few of the more important ones:
1) Toad Hall Bookstore in Rockport, MA. It was established (where one of the town banks used to be) when I was in grade school. I can recall going up to the loft in it to look at books on nature and birds. I remember the shelves, wedged in by the spiral staircase, that held the sci-fi and fantasy books that I devoured as a teenager. (Yes, I read the Shannarah books. But only the first six or so.)
2) I remember that, sometime in my late teens, I "discovered" Barnes and Noble. My brother Steve and his wife Anna took to giving me a gift certificate for the store at Christmas time. I loved that. Such a huge store, filled with so many reading possibilities.
3) It was probably in my Brandeis years that I discovered Wordsworth, in Harvard Square. By the time I was in grad school, I would go there all the time. I think it made me feel funky and smart. But, beyond all else, I got to be surrounded by books.
4) Even more crucial to my development: the discovery of New Words bookstore in Inman Square. My feminism was taking shape, and New Words gave it meaning and purpose. I think that's where I bought Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice when in my early twenties (she was my hero for a while). I bought books on sexuality, and lesbian detective novels, and t-shirts. I returned there after I had moved to PA and bought The Paper Bag Princess and Heather has Two Mommies while I was pregnant with Sam.
5) Somewhere in that timeframe, Borders came into being, and I thought it was both wonderful and decadent to have a coffee shop in the middle of a bookstore.
6) In Quito, Libri Mundi was intially a sanity-saving place to go when I was lonely, where I could even get novels in English that I had not anticipated needing. I still like it there, even though I have many other bookstores (particularly Abya Yala) that I like in Quito also.
But Amazon.com came into being, too. And I was/am as guilty as anyone else for beginning to buy books from there, though I tried to keep my purchases online to the books that did not reliably appear on shelves in "real" (brick and mortar, as they now say) bookstores. And now...
Most of those beloved bookstores are no more. Toad Hall is still around, thank heavens, and we have a Barnes and Noble bookstore/cafe that we go to every week to talk (and sometimes to buy books). But so many of those places are...gone.
One of my many fantasies (and one that my brother Kevin shares) is to have my own little bookstore/coffee shop. I know I lack the business skills, and that these places usually don't survive. But, wouldn't it be nice to provide that kind of sanctuary/heaven for someone else, when I've benefitted from them so much in my life.
What are you nostalgic for? What places mark passages in your life?