Friday, March 31, 2017

Church St. Coffee & Books - Mountain Brook, AL

Church St. Coffee & Books, Mountain Brook, AL
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Obviously, if you've followed my journey you know that there is no cookie-cutter business model or building space for an independent bookstore.  I've seen all shapes, sizes, and strategies.  The bottom line is that bookstores do whatever it takes to survive and hopefully sustain.  Cal M., the owner at Church Street Coffee & Books, told me it takes creativity.  I've heard this expressed to me from other bookstore owners as well.  In order to survive, Church Street has had to shift its business model to its strength as a cafe.  All kinds of coffee drinks and lots of bakery items made from scratch.  I can vouch for the bakery items since Cal offered me one of their legendary "breakup" cookies.  There was even a bakery order being prepared on the day of my visit, sending out 400 cookies.  When I asked about Cal's business growth he told me its good for the cafe side but not so much for the book side.  So can you still have a good bookstore experience here?  Absolutely, positively YES.  There's books and coffee, duh!

Church Street Coffee & Books is a one-level cafe and bookstore in a beautiful building with a spacious parking lot.  The store offers recent releases, bestsellers, books of local interest, children's, classics, as well as books featuring relevant social causes.  Although the quantity of books offered is on the small side, I thought that what was offered here was excellent.  Cal has been in business here for 5 years and his book buyer who was the co-owner left two years ago so now he handles the cafe and the books.

The good news here is that the cafe is thriving.  On the day of my visit it was very busy and through it all Cal was gracious enough to visit with me and tell me about the store.  As with all my visits, people like Cal are just the best.  With the cafe, there are lots of tables and chairs to sit where you can enjoy trying out a book and a coffee.  And when the weather's nice, there is a lovely outdoor seating patio.  

Regardless of your reason, take time to visit this hip coffee shop with some fine books that you'll be able to add to your reading pile.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

CURRENTLY READING:  The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant, Douglas Walpole.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  All Over But The Shoutin', Rick Bragg.

Another exterior view.  

A wonderful outdoor patio on the side of the store.  

You can also sit outside the front door in this area.  

As soon as you enter, you'll see this great display.  

Looking to the left and into the cafe after entering the store.  Some of you may recognize the gentleman in the orange and the lady in front of him.  Members of The Indie Bob Spot team Fran M., tech support, and Cheryl M. graphic artist and travel coordinator.  

After you place your order at the cafe, head to this area located to the right after entering.  

Some great titles of interest, especially for young adults.  

I love little reading nooks and this one is located near the children's section.  

A portion of the children's section.  

Space available upstairs for group events.  

If you're not familiar with this children's series, you can check it out here.  

Lots of books offered addressing current social issues.  

Lots of great options at the cafe.  

Join this book club and come get your books here.  


A few of the irresistible offerings available on the day of my visit.  

Really people, I'm trying.  

An appropriate children's book for this bookstore located near Birmingham.  

With Cal M., the fine owner at Church Street Coffee & Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Paul Ingraham, Bookseller Extraordinaire

Paul Ingraham, Bookseller Extraordinaire from Prairie Lights.  
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Regular readers of The Indie Bob Spot know that this blog is dedicated to the support and recognition of the many fine independent bookstores across this country.  Rarely have I ever written about anything else.  But I am compelled to share with you in this entry a few words about Paul Ingraham, a long-time bookseller and book buyer for Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, IA

Paul speaks at his retirement open house.
Audience members always react to his humor.  
I continue to stress the importance of bookstores in the fabric of our country's culture.  I also know that I'm preaching to the choir since many of you understand this.  But I also want to remind you (and myself) that these bookstores, from the very smallest to the giants would be nothing without the tireless and passionate efforts of booksellers across the country.  Paul is one of those booksellers who is now retiring after many years of service at Prairie Lights.  Of course, he brings that bookselling passion to the table that so many others also have.  But its more than just that.  I'm convinced that if he could give weekly 15 minute talks like the one at his retirement reception, his legion of followers would become throngs (it might be worth joining his bookclub for this!).  Where else could one hear about Canadian authors who write about Jewish Cowboys in Canada and the such!

But above all, you'll find a person in possession of a sharp wit, creative, demonstrative, and an interesting (this is understated) and fascinating person.  And despite all these talents, he remains a humble person who can converse with some of the country's most renowned authors or a common bookstore customer who likes to visit and blog about bookstores.  How lucky they are at Prairie Lights, to have you as one of their leaders in a community of readers.  Congratulations on your retirement but we'll all still enjoy bumping into you at Prairie Lights.  Go to an indie and thank a bookseller.  Bonsoir.  

If you ever get a chance to meet Paul, do it.  All you have to do is ask him about some of his favorite books and he'll take it from there!

The next time you visit Prairie Lights, go upstairs to see all of Paul's bookclub recommendations over the years.  These are just a few of those.  I can guarantee that you will find a fantastic book among these choices.  

Jan W., one of the co-owners at Prairie Lights with Paul.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dunaway Books - St. Louis, MO

Dunaway Books, St. Louis, MO
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Readers, I'm afraid I owe you an apology.  Many of you who have faithfully followed The Indie Bob Spot have probably been wondering when the heck I would get to Dunaway Books in St. Louis.  After all, it's only the oldest and largest bookstore in St. Louis.  Its been in business since 1965 and includes an inventory of over 75,000 used, collectable, and rare books.  Well, the wait is over and I can gladly tell you that this indie needs to be put on your list of visits in the St. Louis area.

On the day of my visit, I was warmly and politely greeted by a British accent and the owner who was behind the front counter, Peter H.  I think Peter is every bit as interesting as the store itself.  This bookstore owner played rugby for over 30 years, plays Victorian golf (knickers and all!), enjoys medieval history, and would probably conduct the business with an old-fashioned quill and feather if it weren't for Vernon, one of the booksellers.  I tend to color my opinions rather optimistically for bookstores and books but Peter differed with me on this.  Business at this store has slowed, especially with walk-ins, over the past few years.  He expressed to me real concerns for bookstores, books, and reading in general.  There's definitely competition for kids with all kinds of electronic devices, but I'm hopeful books can co-exist and still find a place.  Thanks to these devices though, Dunaway Books conducts over 40% of its business with online sales of their collectable and rare books.   Because of this, Vernon will ship out a dozen or more books daily.

Dunaway is a multi-level space with an outstanding inventory.  They offer customers store credit for books they bring in for trade and will offer money for rare or collectable books.  If you're a collector, you absolutely must visit here and also visit their online site.  They have many complete sets, but as Peter told me, "they'll be bought by someone who builds a mansion and displayed so people won't think him an illiterate twerp."  Well said, Peter.

But here's what I can guarantee to you at Dunaway Books.  A chance to explore and experience a quintessential bookstore and meet the fascinating people who work there.  Yet, for as long as Dunaway's has been around there are people in St. Louis who haven't discovered it yet.  Really?  I may be late to this store but I'm not 52 years late.  Wake up St. Louis!  Enjoy a visit to Dunaway Books and enjoy the leisure of a wonderful bookstore.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Moon Palace, Paul Auster.  One of the cover quotes calls it a composite of Twain and Dickens.  I would agree.  Story of a young adult beginning in the late 1960s and all his trials and tribulations.  The story takes a winding trail and included some incredible coincidences that help reveal relationships between characters.  An interesting story that won't be for all, but I can recommend it.  If you haven't read anything by Paul Auster, this might be one to start with.  

CURRENTLY READING:  The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant, Douglas Wallop.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Crown Of Midnight, Sarah J. Maas.  

Another exterior view and one of the display windows.  

View looking directly into the store from the front entrance.  

A few of the works by local authors.  

View looking to the left from the front entrance and a great place to have a seat and do a little sample book reading.  

One of the long aisles on the main floor.  Toward the back you can see the upper balcony level.  

A view looking to the right from the front entrance.  These shelves contain many volumed editions which, as Peter says, some will come in and buy just to fill a bookshelf in their house.  

Looking for 17 volumes of Balzac?  Visit here.  

You can find local authors and interests throughout the store.  

A portion of the children's section and a great place to browse for little readers.  

How about some 1832 editions by Hegel?  Visit here.  

This is near the back of the main floor.  I took this picture because I loved the lamp and the lighting in this part of the store.  

How about a music CD?  Lots of options here.  

View looking from the rear balcony toward the front of the store.  

A nice wall of bookshelves on the upper balcony.  

Continue downstairs for more genres.  

View looking into the basement.  

Another view across the basement level.  

Literary criticism is one of the best sections in the store.  

This is a second basement where even more books are stored.  

With Pete on the left and Vernon on the right, two of the fine people you'll meet at Dunaway Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Afterwords Books - Edwardsville, IL

Afterwords Books, Edwardsville, IL
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When you look up the words, "cozy" and "charming," in the dictionary of bookstores, this is the place you'll see pictured.  Lots of natural light, lots of comfortable seats, and everything neatly arranged and layed out in a historical house built in the 1800s.  To an atmosphere and setting like this, add a personable bookstore owner who is as friendly and conversant as any and you get the perfect recipe for a winning combination in Edwardsville, IL.  

Luanne L. has been the owner here for the last 6 years of the store's 8 years in the business.  Luckily, for bookstore patrons in Edwardsville, Luanne is tenacious.  The store has had 5 moves in the last 5 years but has found an outstanding location in its current home and is much more visible now.  Travelers who explore old Route 66 will be able to visit Afterwords Books now with this location.

Luanne shared with me that the store has continued to show positive growth over the past 8 years and its no wonder why.  The store has a strong children's section with twice weekly story times.  There are frequent children's author events that are very well-attended.  In-store book clubs, a documentary club, and a knitting group are all here and are great ways to bring people into the store.  Some of the store's sidelines like greeting cards, book cover coasters, and unique crafts are created by local artisans.  Is it any wonder with community connections like this that the store had a solid group of volunteers to help move the inventory a mere 3 months ago?!  Kudos to you, Edwardsville.

The store is arranged all on one level in multiple rooms.  It offers new and used books and all are shelved together.  And if you need to pick a day to visit, go on Friday when they have cookies provided by any one of the several local bakeries.

As with most of my visits, owners like Luanne are an absolute delight to meet as well as a regular customer and former bookseller, Mike, who was in the store on the day of my visit.  I can't imagine anyone visiting here and NOT having a great time.  But Edwardsville, I want to give you a word of warning.  You are in possession of a treasured gem.  Don't blow it.  Many communities would love to have what you have.  So visit Afterwords Books, browse, talk books, find something for yourself or a gift for someone else.  Learn the lesson of communities who didn't do this.  Don't miss this terrific bookstore.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  The Fever, Megan Abbott.  Well, I came close but didn't finish it.  The book is probably in the maid's break room in some hotel in Alabama.  The hazards of traveling the country in support of independent bookstores is that some things get lost along the trail.  This book was going great until I lost it and based on what I read, I would recommend it.

CURRENTLY READING:  Moon Palace, Paul Auster.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood.  And received as a gift a wonderful Afterwords Books coffee mug.  Thanks Luanne.   

View of the side of the bookstore from the parking lot.  The ramp makes the store handicap accessible.  

When you see this sign, pull in.   

Another exterior view.  

A couple of great places to sit on the front porch and try out a book.  

View looking into the store from the front entrance.  Remember, this store is in an old house.  This is just the front hallway.  

This is the first room to the left after entering.  

This is the first room to the right after entering.  Lots of great places to sit in this room.  

Your kids might enjoy these learning mats.  

Some unique and creative items in the front hallway.  

Just some of the items here that kids will love.  

This is a portion of the children's room.  

Another portion of the children's room.  This is the second room on the right after you enter.  If you haven't brought your child here yet, make a point of it.  They will love it.  

The store offers a line of Melissa & Doug items for kids.  

A few of the unique greeting cards available.  

Check out some of the events at Afterwords.  

Kids will find lots of stuff here they like.  

Very unique trees made from book pages.  

Find this room in the back left of the store, especially on Friday.  Cookies.  

Some of the ornate craftsmanship found in this historical house that is Afterwords Books. 

Items of local interest.  

You can get some of Emily's great artwork creations here at Afterwords Books.  

Yes, yes, and yes.  Lots of reasons to get one of these tote bags.  

With Luanne, the fine owner at Afterwords Books.  Thanks for a great visit.