On the drive home yesterday, after a particularly trying few months and an especially “challenging” day at work, my mind drifted again to one of my favorite fantasies. There is a space now in the lower Rondout area of Kingston, my current city of resident. It’s a leftover from the days when Rondout was a thriving community in its own right, with businesses up and down the Creek, supporting the D&H Canal business. It’s a two-story, brick structure, with a storefront on the bottom, and living quarters above.
My Beloved and I visited the space about a year ago, when the current residents were trying to make a go of a vintage/thrift shop thing. It was full of intriguing items, but without a theme or energy to unify the business. In fact, we only stumbled on it during one of our evening wanderings around the odd maze of streets in that part of town. Too far past the current business district to attract attention on its own, the shop was quiet. We enjoyed our browse and headed on.
On another drive recently, we noticed that what little activity had been going on in the space was gone. We were not surprised. Both of us being old hands at retail, mainly on the corporate level, it was clear that either start-up funds were low, or the shopkeepers underestimated the power of word-of-mouth advertising.
It was that space that wandered into my tired fantasies yesterday. All the careers I’d pondered in my early years have pretty much become obsolete. Newspaper reporters, teachers, novelists all struggle in a way that didn’t exist when I was planning out my life. Independent bookstores had their day and seem to be struggling back to take their place in some small, hip towns, but often feel the obligation of a “hook” of sorts, beer or coffee, live music or toys. In the ancient economic models that still linger in the deep recesses of my pockmarked brain, I still dream about a bookstore.
I remember the sunlight streaming into the tall windows at Ariel, the slate floors slick with dust and curiosity. Norman Levine’s treasure trove on Route 28 was a destination for a rainy Sunday afternoon, filled with the brilliant odds and ends that only a used bookstore can boast of. And Manny’s Lounge, the long-lost piles of paperbacks, whimsically priced according to the big man’s mood.
There will never be another Manny’s, mainly because of pesky fire codes, but more than that. Manny was a bombastic huckster. One went there for art supplies and low cost reads and came out with a world of knowledge a la Manny Lipton, whether or not they wanted it. His daughter still runs the store, by the way, but without the tasty stacks of books that made passing through the aisles as challenging as climbing the Gunks.
These places were my homes away from home. In a good bookstore, I could escape the confines of my various body states, the ravages of love, and browse the lives of others, often at little to no cost. How one might keep the doors open and the lights on with such a business these days is beyond my scope of expertise. The quiet I seek in such a space, the thoughtful conversation, the gentle dusting of the shelves—all these would be bad for business.
I could acquiesce to a monthly open mic of sorts, perhaps passing the hat and giving away one flavor of coffee. I could even sell a few toys, book related of course. Book signings might help the bottom line, too. I salute those who made such shops viable for so long and envy the times in which they made their magic. I may take another drive past the shop of my dreams soon. And then head back to Barnes & Noble, itself no stranger to the shifting sands of paper and ink. And, I can dream.