Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Small-Time Bookshop: Gone but Not Forgotten

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Small-Time Bookshop: Gone but Not Forgotten

Article excerpt

One of the more agreeable spots in my hometown was Barrett's Bookstore, which was located on a shady street of small shops.

It was a place you felt totally comfortable wandering in to browse and perhaps dream a little. Whenever you walked through the door, you'd feel as if you'd entered your second home. Mrs. Barrett probably knew your parents. She also knew when to leave you alone to your thoughts and when to help.

When she did help, she could open horizons for a kid. "Did you see this table?" she might ask quietly. "It has a book or two by Willa Cather."

"Well, no," Mrs. Barrett would concede when pressed, "Cather didn't write about dogs or horses as such, like Albert Payson Terhune or C.W. Anderson. But I think," she'd say, "you'll like the way Cather wrote about people. Here, have a look," she'd urge, handing me a new edition that smelled irresistibly of fresh pages and fresh promise. She might even lend a book to a young future customer, knowing that he or she was being ushered into a lifetime of reading and that someday another store, another town, another generation would reap the rewards.

Barrett's Bookstore is long gone, along with the street it was on - both casualties of urban renewal. But I've seen signs in the past few years that I am not alone in cherishing shops like that and the world they represented. "Small, expertly staffed bookstores with a knowledgeable staff" read one ad in The New York Times not long ago. I've seen other efforts to recapture the feeling of small bookstores and other establishments.

It's a marketing effort, of course, but whatever the motivation, I'll take it. In today's big discount stores you're left alone just the way you sometimes were at Mrs. Barrett's, but the feeling is different. It's one of isolation in a landscape of products. If you need information, it's like finding help in the desert, and when you get it, it tends to come from decent salespeople who nonetheless have little interest in the store, much less the person visiting it. …

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