Following the closure of Robin’s Book Store in Philadelphia, Jakob Dorof of the Philadelphia City Paper did a health check on some of the remaining independents in the area. Below is a summary of what he found and in my quest for great books, where possible I’ve looked at the books each store recommends to find one that catches my eye. I’m still celebrating my find from the Columbus bookstore roundup. The Third Annual Philadelphia Book Festival is on April 18th and 19th, if you’re in the area drop by and look for some of these stores.
Joseph Fox Bookshop - owner Joseph Fox credits some of their success to the many off-site events the store participates in, over 200 a year. These events give exposure to Joseph Fox Bookshop and if it is an author event, it stocks him with signed editions he continues to sell from the store. Mr. Fox has noticed a slight slow down in sales, but he is confident that store will stay in business for years to come. The store recommendation that caught my eye is Karnak Cafe by Naquib Mahfouz. It’s underlying topic of state sanctioned torture is timely and I like the portions of Mahfouz’s publishing history that I’ve heard.
House of Our Own – another venerable establishment, it sells new books downstairs and used upstairs. Co-owner Deborah Sanford said to stay financially flexible the store dropped author events because calendars are so busy that customers couldn’t be counted on to attend. Instead, the store attracts a loyal following by providing an extensive literature collection and a warm, friendly and homey atmosphere.
Brickbat Books – a charming bookstore with rare and used books and new small press books. The owner, Patrick Richardson Graham noted that the used bookstore business is always tight and continues to remain so. The store hosts music events including a couple of bands that impressed Jakob Dorof, but I’ve never heard of them. I looked at the store blog and currently a group of Vintage Mid-Century Paperbacks are well displayed. The prices are reasonable, but even if you’re not buying (but you should), the covers are terrific, take a look.
Giovanni’s Room- currently the oldest gay-and-lesbian bookstore in the nation, where winter sales beat estimates, but a two year long city construction project in front of the store could be difficult to survive (not exactly how we wanted the stimulus money to work). The owner, Ed Hermance, hopes the expertise of the staff will be enough to keep their customers loyal. The book that immediately caught my eye is My Germany: A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escapedby Lev Raphael. I have the extreme privilege of helping Holocaust survivors apply for German reparations, it’s just about all the legal work I’m willing to do anymore. Part of the process is reliving their story; it is an honor to hear them. The last time I worked with a survivor, she came with her son and at one difficult moment, he turned to me and said “we don’t talk about this very much.” I am very interested in reading about a son’s journey to help heal his family’s past.
Whodunit?- currently the oldest mystery bookstore in the country (I’m noticing a trend), co-owner Art Bourgeau said that they have never had so many people visiting the store. He credits his constant buying of books and their reasonable price, most under $10, as the lifeblood of the store. They also sell hundreds of books a year from a table of books kept on the sidewalk. I confess, I’ve never bought a book from one of those tables, I’ll have to look harder next time.
Head House Books - a store selling new books, owner Richard de Wyngaert says the store stands out from Amazon and the big box stores because he acts as a curator who chooses books of value and merit, the store atmosphere is elegant (it is beautiful, look at the picture), and it offers a series of guest author events. I’m looking forward to readingBlindspot by Jane Kamensky, it looks like the perfect fit for the Art History Challenge.
Wooden Shoe Books and Records – opened in 1976 by a group of council communists, anarchists and civil rights activists. It’s still run as a collective, but has seen income decline. They are considering relocating to a larger space since their events attract more people than they can comfortably fit.
GERM Books and Gallery- a new and used bookstore offering ideologically unpopular books and those dealing with socially difficult topics. Jakob Dorof said the store has plenty of conspiracy theory, UFO and occult books. Currently, business is doing very well. The Gallery holds art shows in the same politically incorrect vein.