Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bookstore of the Month: From My Shelf in Wellsboro, PA

From My Shelf Books & Gifts
25 Main St
Wellsboro, PA
(570) 724-5793
From My Shelf on Facebook
From My Shelf on Twitter

This time it's personal.

Of all the Bookstores of the Month I've featured at The Quivering, From My Shelf Books & Gifts in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania hits closest to my heart.  I was born in Bloomsburg, 100 miles southeast of the bookstore, and spent many of my childhood summers at my grandparents' farm just outside of Wellsboro.  My grandfather, Gordon E. Abrams, was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Wellsboro from 1960 to 1965, but--as a Google search of The Wellsboro Gazette reveals--even after he retired, he was still officiating at funerals and weddings.  I don't remember the church side of my grandfather's personality, only the gentleman-farmer aspect.  Though he could be a short-tempered man, I think Granddad Abrams found comfort in his rural semi-retirement growing corn, gathering eggs from the chicken coop, tending to a small brood of quail, and taking walks with his beagle Snoopy (he was a fan of Charles M. Schultz).

My (Grandfather's) Little Pony
I remember spending many summer weeks at the Wellsboro farm, playing hide-and-seek from my brother in the cornfield (mostly hide), climbing the ladder in the barn to bury myself in hay just for the fresh-cut green smell, and attempting to ride my grandparents' black pony Queenie (a beast with a temper as ill and short as my grandfather's).

But I also remember taking trips into Wellsboro and, one summer, begging my grandmother to apply for a library card so I could check out something to read during my summer vacation.  For whatever reason, she hadn't bothered to get a library card--she was too busy baking and cleaning and farming and saw no need for something as frivolous as a library card.  Couldn't I just enjoy their extensive library of Reader's Digest Condensed Books in the parlor instead?  No, I needed something uncondensed and undigested, thanks.  Eventually,  I twisted my grandmother's arm to the snapping point, and she relented--fussily driving me all the way into Wellsboro herself for a library card she swore would only get this one-time use.  Three hours later, I came skipping back to the farm with an armload of books--including My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel, which I promptly tucked into the waistband of my pants, then climbed to the hayloft and scooped out a chair for myself in the piles of straw.  I remained hidden, lost in a book, for the rest of the afternoon.  So what if My Darling, My Hamburger was a 1969 “young adult” novel about teen romance, pregnancy, and abortion?  How old was I then?  8, 9, 10?  It didn't matter.  I was lost and didn't want to be found.

From My Shelf Books & Gifts didn't come along until four decades later, but it's a sure bet that if they'd been around during my youth, I would have broken my grandmother's arm in order to go shop there.  Owner Kevin Coolidge would have seen to it that I was properly matched with a summer's-worth of reading material.

At last count, Wellsboro is a town of about 3,300 people.  It's a tight-knit community founded on a shipping and trade industry.  As Wikipedia notes, at the turn of the twentieth century, Wellsboro “had fruit evaporators, flour and woolen mills, a milk-condensing plant, marble works, saw mills, foundry and machine shops, and manufactories of cut glass, chemicals, rugs, bolts, cigars, carriages, and furniture.”  And, in 2006, it gained another bookstore--the kind that caters to readers “in search of a good book.”

“We know most of our regulars by name, even those that only visit a couple times of year,” Kevin wrote in response to the Bookstore of the Month questionnaire I sent him.  “We are from here and we’ve strived to build the type of bookstore we wish were here when we were growing up.  We did that, but we didn’t do it alone.  We did it with a community that wanted a bookstore, a community involved with keeping their downtown strong.”

It's the kind of small-town business section that hosts an annual wine and art tour, a classic car “cruise-in,” and a Dickens-themed Christmas stroll.  Wellsboro is also the gateway to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (which, incidentally, is the subject of a short story I wrote for Esquire in September 1998).

From My Shelf aims to keep its community bound tight through a love of reading.  “You know that feeling you get when you finish a great book and you want to share that feeling?  We get to do that,” Kevin told me.  “We love matching the right book with the right person and sharing that passion of books.”

Kevin and his staff have even started a YouTube series about the bookstore: “From My Shelf Books Vs. The Evil Empire.”  Is it a little cheesy?  Sure, but it's also great fun to watch.  As Kevin notes, “If you love bookstores, cats, or ever had a case of writer’s block, you’ll appreciate it.”

Here are some other highlights from Kevin's questionnaire responses:

Store mascot:  Our original bookstore passed away this winter.  He was the most famous cat in Wellsboro.  He even had his own book, Hobo Finds a Home, a memoir with meow.  (Hobo also made Mental Floss' list of Favorite Bookstore Cats.)  We currently have two brothers, Huck & Finn.  They are rescue cats from the local animal sanctuary.

Current staff picks of favorite books:  It’s huge as we are all voracious readers.  Kevin loves science fiction and loves the tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding, the first of which is Retribution Falls.  Wooding is a British author and even with all the books that the store has in stock, Kevin had to get it from England before it was available in the states.  Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is a favorite with all the staff.  It’s actually the only book that we sell with a money-back guarantee.  The staff loves young adult and we really also enjoy the Demon Trapper’s Daughter series by Jana Oliver.  So much so that it inspired the “Bibliofiend” that we introduced in our web series.

Bestselling titles:  Young adult is a strong seller, and we all handsell it, as all of us read at least some YA: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; Splintered by A. G. Howard, which is one of our staff picks; Game of Thrones which we loved before it was a HBO show; Wynken, Blyken and Nod by Eugene Field (our town has a statue of this on the Green); Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; and Name of the Wind, because we honestly believe it’s the best fantasy book in the last 10 years.

Oddest/funniest request from a customer:  “Do you have Machiavelli’s Little Prince?”

Someday, maybe in the not-too-distant future, they may have a balding, slightly-paunchy customer come in looking to recapture a scrap of his youth.  So if that certain someone asks for a copy of My Darling, My Hamburger, I hope they'll be kind to him.

P. S.  One other personal connection came in a later email from the bookstore after I mentioned my grandparents' farm.  Kevin wrote: “Very cool.  My family is from here, and my grandparents had a farm in Coolidge Hollow, which is about six miles south of Wellsboro.  The dairy farm is still in the family, fifth generation now, and my wife's grandfather used to be the preacher at the Presbyterian church here in Wellsboro.”

From My Shelf is the featured bookstore all this month at The Quivering Pen.  By clicking on the links to books mentioned in this month's blog posts, you'll be taken to the store's website where you can purchase the book (or, better yet, several books).  The Quivering Pen is dedicated to supporting independent bookstores.

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