Obviously, one of the best things about owning a bookstore is the kids. Daily, little ones come in and have milestones: first goodbye wave at an actual goodbye moment, first word read, etc. For me, though, it’s the first time I see the kids as book-loving adults that really moves me. We’ve been open almost 20 years, and now our first generation of little kids, kids who grew up reading at the store, are now in the mid-to-late-twenties. In the last several weeks I’ve seen a bunch of them and they’re all readers, and I am proud of that, and prouder still of the adults they’ve become.Here’s what they don’t tell you when you open a bookstore: your store will have a profound effect on the kids who are regular customers. Yes, we recommend books, but the neighborhood bookstore means more to kids than we’re aware, until they come back as adults and tell you. Last week we received three galleys in the mail with a handwritten note from the editor. This happens every once in a while and I usually don’t know the editor, but am touched by the note. In this instance I did know the editor, a young woman of about 28 who has been shopping at the store pretty much every summer since we opened. Natalie was an engaged reader as a kid, always having an opinion about what she’d read and how she felt about it. That she is now an editor doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Another former kid-customer, who is getting her Ph.D. in chemistry, came by the other week to get some audio books. We chatted about life and chemistry. She explained about a molecule she was working on and I was lost from about the fourth word. Her passion was obvious. I remembered her one of the shyest kids I’d ever met. She would come to the counter, bright red, and whisper the title of the book she wanted. The last time she came in, she strode up to the register and I came around and gave her a hug. We talked about books, more specifically, the audio books, and how she’s driving a lot more these days. I had a moment of remembering when she and her sister would bike to the store and leave their bikes on the lawn. Having a bookstore in a small town, okay, tiny town, allows for a lot of nostalgia but sometimes there is sadness. They grow up so fast, and so well, for the most part.
On occasion a troubled teen customer comes in as an adult with the same issues they grappled with as kids. Mark was one such kid. As a kid he struggled with his sexuality and would find solace and validation with us and the books we recommended that let him know he was not alone. His life was troubled as a teen and he was struggling with drugs and generally making poor choices that made his life harder than it had to be. He was home for a visit and it was sad to see that he’s still struggling, he’s not yet found sure footing in adult life. I have faith that he will ultimately be okay, but it was sad to see that he’s not there yet.
It is a privilege to be part of a child’s a life as a bookseller. Every returning adult has a story to share about a book, or two or ten, that one of us recommended that had a profound effect on them. And all have the fondest memories of the bookstore as a second home and a place of joy and comfort. I remember as a kid there was a book and candy store that was biking distance from my house. I loved this store and it was where I bought all my Stephen King books and Swedish Fish.
Readers, what are your memories of your childhood bookstore?