Summer is an amazing time to be a bookseller, at least here in Vermont. We have finally shed our winter layers (of clothes, if not pounds), and are so darn grateful for every morsel of sunshine and warmth that we, as a population, are in a very good mood. It’s also a great time for us because all of our out-of-town, out-of-state, and out-of-country customers come back and visit us, and those reunions are magical.
The little faces we see once a year morph over time from babies and toddlers into independent children, then teens, young adults, and eventually adults, and might repeat themselves on brand-new little faces as the babies we knew grow up to have babies of their own.
Customers from far away often don’t have local bookstores in their towns, sadly, so they are extra appreciative of coming back and finding us still here after more than 20 years. They walk in, breathe in the scent of new books, and sigh happily. The other day, a repeat summer visitor was buying books, and as we loaded them into a tote bag, she said, “This store always has the warmest atmosphere! It’s like walking into a hug.” That was one of the nicest things she could have said.
This week has brought a few of these sweet blasts from the past. On Sunday, we sold books on a mountaintop—a local author, Judy Chaves, had written a book about its history, Secrets of Mt. Philo. One of the hikers who signed up for the guided tour up the mountain was a 20-something young woman. She and her friend came up to me at the end of the event, and she said, “You won’t remember me, but I used to come to the store a lot as a kid. We were at your giant Harry Potter party for the last book [back in 2007].” It turned out that the two girls had been featured in a media spot about the event. “We still watch it sometimes,” she said. “I was number 11 in line, and you handed my book to me out the window.” We reminisced about that crazy, wonderful night. She remembered she had done the Herbology and Potions activities, and seen the live owl. I love that even now, 12 years later, that memory is still vivid.
The next day, I was at my friend’s mother’s new house in a neighborhood I’d never visited before. We met some people outside the house, a vibrant 86-year-old woman taking a walk with her 26-year-old grandson. We all introduced ourselves, and when I mentioned that she and my friend’s mother were welcome to come visit the bookstore, her grandson’s face lit up. “Your store moved to Shelburne when I was in the 7th grade! I used to come there all the time. I read so much!” And his adult face softened into his younger, boyish, 13-year-old face, enthusiastic about all those books. I’m hoping he and his grandmother will pop by, and he can rekindle his love of reading.
As a bookstore owner, when people come through the door, it feels a little as though they’re walking into my home. I want visitors to feel welcome and relaxed as they browse the shelves. As their host, it’s my responsibility to help where needed but also let them do their own thing. Some people want to talk about books at length, and others are happiest alone in the stacks. It’s my job to create an atmosphere that allows for both—a hug for some, a quiet walk in the woods, perhaps, for others.