In deepest winter, when skies are grey and spirits tend toward blue, it’s hard for the small-town bookseller not to let her imagination wander to dreams of what a bookselling life would be like in a big, lively city. There would be a line of cars parked at the curb (not just speeding down the street one lonely car at a time) and people constantly passing by, bundled up against the cold in northern cities but eager to escape the confines of their familiar apartments to explore the larger world at their doorstep. Some of these passers-by would pull open the bookshop door and hurry in, stomping snow from their boots.
My imagination, of course, was fired years ago in childhood by THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP, by Christopher Morley: “He stumbled down the three steps that led into the dwelling of the muses, lowered his overcoat collar, and looked about.”
Back to the dream: Visitors might or might not be in the mood for conversation. Some would gravitate to the jigsaw puzzle (Susan helped so much with that on Saturday) to amuse themselves with it for half an hour, while others would avidly scan the New Arrivals shelves, chatting about the weather with the bookseller while grabbing up attractive volumes to peruse, asking eagerly, “Have you read this one?” or “Do you know what this is about?” Other browsers, shy but serious, would disappear into the stacks to become part of the furniture until, one at a time, emerging at last (blinking like owls) with stacks of treasure.
Morley again: “The shop had a warm and comfortable obscurity, a kind of drowsy dusk, stabbed here and there by bright cones of yellow light from green-shaded electrics.”
Ah, the dream! Every town, of whatever size, deserves a bookstore, I like to say. I believe it, and in general I love having my bookstore in Northport. Luckily, book-lovers from the big cities find me here, especially when they arrive for long summer vacations. From Grand Rapids and Chicago they come, from Ann Arbor and St. Louis, from the East Coast, West Coast and even foreign countries. Not so often at this time of year, though.
On the other hand--. “There will be days when the only person you’ll see will be the mailman,” predicted a friend in business in Traverse City when I moved Dog Ears there from Northport in 1994, and she was right. Bigger isn’t always better, and many of the customers who loved Dog Ears in Traverse City have stayed loyal, trekking all the way out to Northport several times a year. “We’re your best excuse for a beautiful drive” is the motto I’ve used more than once. Northport is mini-vacation territory for Traverse City residents, less than an hour away.
Today traffic is light. Snow plows. School buses. Trucks filled with stacked firewood. I leave a friend watching the shop while Sarah and I go for a walk, returning to take up again a conversation on the history of ideas. When a book order arrives from one of my distributors, I have customers to telephone or e-mail and can look forward to visits from these good friends. Summer feels faraway, like something I dreamed, but it will return. For now there is the peacefulness of winter to savor. Sarah has a rawhide bone, and I have plenty of books.