I like book stores. I work in one, the Walden Books in Berlin, and they’re certainly an interesting place to work. The problem is, it’s a chain store, and not really a book store. It doesn’t have an identity. You can walk into any Borders, Borders Express, Walden Books, Barnes and Noble, or any other larger chain store and you’ll essentially get the same service and stock, depending on the bookstore size. They’ve got the same shelves, items, check out kiosks and general layout.
That’s why I love the Northfield Bookstore – It doesn’t have any of that. Mainly, because it’s the only one, unique. The ceiling arches overhead in a vintage tin painted white, something that the owners discovered – and decided to keep – when they tore up the existing tiling that brought the overhead down about five feet. The floor is a battered wooden affair – it creaks in a half dozen places and lets everyone in the store know exactly what section you’re looking at. On each shelf is a hand painted sign denoting the section type, fiction, mystery, non fiction, etc, each section of which is almost overflowing with books, some turned on their side to fit the smaller shelf, or a couple piled on here and there, spines out towards the buyer. A couple of racks at the ends of the shelves are scattered with books that have been heavily discounted, while the centre shelf is covered with books with notes, highlighting a newer work or author, covers spread out so they don’t inadvertently become a domino set.
I’ve become a regular at the store over the past four years now, ever since it’s been open to the public, stopping in, not necessarily to buy something (although that’s often what I end up doing), but to wander along the limited shelf space, looking for something to catch my eye. When something does, the price, written in pencil in the front cover, usually a huge discount from when the book was originally new, is well within my limited budget and will sometimes end up in my bag on the way out.
The owners know me by name – I’ve had an account with them for a while, and even when I haven’t been in there for a while, for a span of time that’s reasonable to forget one patron or another’s name – they still remember me, and will be more than happy to sell me another book, or to find something that I’ve been looking for. They’re also almost always able to take various used books from me, and it’s always fun to see some of my older ones on the shelfs, and to see them vanish after a while.
Now that is a proper book store.