(l-r) Caroline Mulvrooney, Anne Mulvrooney, Ellie Hoiaje, 8/10/16
After having tardily discovered the Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore on Upper Monroe, I was thrilled to chance upon another bookstore, Small World’s College Town Books on 1522 Mount Hope Ave.
But my heart sank when manager Benjamin Schwabe said the store was closing within a week or so. I had visions of the demise about 5 years ago of the Houghton Bookstore in the Village Gate as Rochester bibliophiles trundled away boxes of free books.
But the news is not so bad for Small World Books. As Ben explained, about a year ago Small World on 425 North St. opened a branch near College Town. The increased exposure was great for the store, but the branch did not prove as profitable as hoped. Alas, many businesses in the College Town are finding the road difficult.
Except for the maze-like feeling of the main store on North, the College Town branch has a similar ambience: hanging letters and selection markers, wide-ranging and carefully curated selections, a small sitting area with comfortable chairs and a love seat, surrounded by bric-a-brac, knick-knacks and literary curiosities.
On the days I was at the store, there were plentiful customers all sorry to see the branch close. A UR student from China said the store became one of her favorite cultural destinations. She now plans an excursion to the main store in a part of Rochester she’s never been.
Ellie Hoiaje bought 4 books on her first visit to the store — and read them in one week! Caroline Mulrooney — who makes time to read at least one hour a day — was taking advantage of the moving sale, stocking up on art and history books. Caroline’s daughter Anne graduated from UB and is now taking online education courses at Liberty University in preparation for a career as an English teacher. While Anne tolerates reading her assignments online, she strongly prefers a print paperback in her hands to the “Big Brother glare” of the computer screen. All the women plan to visit North Street.
I also met the manager Ben who grew up in Webster. After high school, Ben left Rochester to pursue undergraduate and masters degrees (Yale) in religion and the arts. He’s been back for about a year and a half now.
Ben is one of the many young “creatives” making our city vibrant and thriving. And Ben plans on making Rochester his home base for the long term, saying:
I’ve grown more and more comfortable in and excited about Rochester in that time. I love the music scene here and the strong restaurant and bar community. I’ve been very excited to get the Eastman Jazz students involved at our North Street store, giving some of the most interesting performances I’ve seen.
As this Small World chapter comes to a close, Ben offered some observations from behind the desk of a bookstore:
Today Desire is on the turntable at Small World’s College Town Books. As Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris sing long, literate songs about outlaws and loss quiet patrons whisper in and out of the aisles. It’s a small shop full of slowly emptying shelves. Soon the books will be gone and these ribs, the shelves, will be pulled down. And then perhaps some new tenant will come selling prepaid cell-phones or calling cards or stereo systems. But today Desire is on the turntable and people are still sitting down to read a few paragraphs from this Thomas Mann novel or that history of Appalachia. Stacks of books still litter my desk; books which seemed too compelling to be shelved immediately, which seemed to require my attention.
It isn’t as though a dream is dying. Some of these books will move a few miles north to the original location, Small World Books, and will there be thumbed through by similar quiet customers.
It’s a funny perspective of a city you get from behind the desk of a used bookstore. Students and collectors and the chronically lonely come to books for various reasons. Some are glad to talk about their purchases and we list titles together of novels that made this or that impact on us or them or some time period. Some don’t make eye contact. No matter. The city still grows with every transaction. I’m glad to have been here. I’m sad to go. But the old store up on North has enough character to keep me engaged and content for a while yet.
While the records are still playing come in and get 75% off all books! Buy records for a dollar a piece! Buy our bookshelves and furniture and help prevent us from throwing out our backs lugging boxes!
My own first and last purchase was Slavoj Žižek’s In Defense of Lost Causes (who I now know is a Slovenian psychoanalytic philosopher, cultural critic, and Hegelian Marxist who calls himself a “communist in a qualified sense” and wrote The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) But as Ben explained, the bookstore hardly needs defense as a lost cause — just moving back home up north.