Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bookshop A Day #19: Spiral Bookcase, Philadelphia

On the run up to release of The Bookshop Book on the 2nd October, I'm going to be blogging about a bookshop every day to celebrate wonderful bookshops and booksellers all around the world. (#bookshopaday). Today I want to tell you about:

Spiral Bookcase, Philadelphia

I had a chat with Ann, who owns the bookshop. 

Hi Ann! Where can we find you?

Our store front is 112 Cotton St., Manayunk, PA 19127. Manayunk is a small neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia. It used to be a booming mill town in the 1800s, but has now transformed to a quaint village-like environment replete with small indie shops, wonderful restaurants, and a strong community spirit.

You can also find us online: Our website. Our online storefrontFacebook.

Twitter & Instagram : @spiralbookcase

Describe your bookshop in three words.

Charming. Well-Curated. Devoted.

What’s going to catch our eye as soon as we walk through the door?

As soon as you walk through the door, you see our center display. We stack the books on top of vintage crates, and a giant old dictionary, creating what we hope is an interesting and inviting arrangement. Ever-changing, we populate the display with personal recommendations, and popular, thought-provoking, and unusual books. We want it to speak to our visitors and show them what they might find in the store -This is not a cookie cutter store, we have a range of new, used, and weird books, and care is given when selecting our stock.

Look to the left and you’ll be greeted by one of our top-notch booksellers and perhaps, our staff cat, Amelia, will be checking you out from her favorite perch in the Parlor of Peculiarities.

What’s the best event you’ve ever done?

That is a hard question to answer. Since we’ve opened I believe we’ve worked on about 300 events. They run the gamut from author signings, to open-mics. to musical performances, to book clubs, workshops, festivals, literary gatherings and more.

One of our more recent events - The Spiral Salon for the Literary Insane - definitely stood out. We have held other Salons in the past, bringing together an eclectic mix of authors, artists, and musicians, but as we have a predilection for the macabre and unusual we thought it would be fun to create an salon celebrating literary horror.

The evening started with a cocktail hour, featuring a folktale-inspired drink, The Yellow Ribbon. (3 parts lemonade, 1 part vodka, rimmed with strawberry jam.) At night, we formed a procession with drumming and lanterns, and moved slowly to our neighboring park to begin the terror. We shared well-known creepy tales from Poe and Lovecraft, ominous poetry, eerie urban legends, other frightful firsthand tales, and ended with a selection of murder ballads. We had volunteers to hold lanterns for the readers to see, and sinister songs moved us from one tale to the next. Everyone had a great time, and it was fun to hold a nighttime event in our local park, lending a perfect ambiance to the readings. As we are now in the Halloween spirit, we will be holding another Salon for the Literary Insane on Sat., Oct. 25th.

And your best customer moment?

There are many, many wonderful customer moments, every single day. That is one of the perks in running a bookshop - having people pop in every day with a story, or a quiet determination of finding the right book, or bringing us into their world by asking for the perfect recommendation. There are a couple of moments that stood out for me, because of their impact.

After having my daughter Zelda it took some time to adjust to the demands of parenthood and the demands of owning a small business. I was having a particularly hard day and one of our regulars came in. He could see that I was upset, even though I tried my best to hide it. He browsed and bought a book, asked about my new daughter, and as he was leaving he asked what my daughter’s name was. I said Zelda. Ah, he said. Have you heard of the song Beautiful Zelda by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band? He then gave me a bit of a smile, and left. I immediately found it on youtube, watched it, and promptly cried. He made my day- he gave me something that I much needed at that particular moment. I was reminded what an integral part customers play in not only our shop experience, but in our lives. video here:

Another experience that only happened a couple of weeks ago, involved a mother and her two twin teenage daughters. They came in one Saturday evening and as soon as they stepped through the door, the twins were beaming, absolutely beaming. They were speechless, walking around and taking everything in. They plopped down near our vintage book section and just started flipping through books. One looked up at me and said This place is like heaven. Oh, how I absolutely adored hearing that. They put together a stack of books, giddy from the surroundings, and we chatted for a bit. I knew the shop left a deep impression and having that ability to connect with people is uplifting and powerful.

Recommend a book you’ve been loving recently.

Why The Child is Cooking in the Polenta byAglaja Veteranyi translated by Vincent Kling.

The author’s stark narrative voice and the dark folktale that winds around the characters create an unforgettable tale, uncovering a spiritualistic understanding of hardship and brutality within the confines of a circus caravan.

Why did you become a bookseller?

I’ve always had an inner passion to connect with people and I grew up with parents who consistently encouraged my love of reading. We frequented any and all bookstores we could find and we went to the library all the time. I studied English and worked at the Library of Congress as a Copyright Specialist, so slowly but surely my book knowledge expanded and grew.

My husband and I moved to Philadelphia in 2009 and the neighborhood where we moved, Manayunk, did not have a bookshop, although we felt it was the perfect setting for one. In the winter of 2009 we posited the question - Why not? At that time I was commuting from Philly to DC and ready to take the leap - to start something of my own. I started researching more and building a collection. We were going to start on-line, but the perfect space fell into our laps, so we secured a storefront.

I wanted to serve our literary community and celebrate the printed page by seeking out and presenting both popular and uncommon titles. I wanted to become a community hub, holding events and engaging our customers, becoming that welcoming space that everyone should have a chance to experience. Our name, The Spiral Bookcase, lends itself to those beliefs. The Spiral Bookcase is a coming together of ideas and people, an extremely inclusive space, creating an environment of shared stories and shared experiences.

Why are you still a bookseller?

After four years as a bookseller, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is a multi-dimensional pursuit and at the core - the creative act of writing and the dynamic act of reading - is, I believe, essential for a greater understanding and empathy to the world around us. I have an inner drive to not only create a shop where readers can find the next perfect book and to recommend the right book to the right person, but to also create a third space for people to relax and engage in the world around them. I am extremely devoted to the shop - to sell, discuss, and show-off stellar books and to connect the people who share in this common devotion. There is nothing like it.

If you could open a bookshop anywhere else in the world, where would you open it and why?

Cork, Ireland. I studied abroad at UCC in Cork City and formed a deep connection and appreciation with the city and with Ireland. When I returned to visit friends a couple of years ago, the connection was still there and, I think, will always remain. I visited every bookshop I could, and pictured having my own place among them. I can still picture it.

My Irish friends and I have discussed the possibility of opening a seasonal shop in Ireland. But as magical thinking goes, I think it will happen one day.

Sum up what books and bookshops mean to you in one sentence.

One word : Connection.


Details of The Bookshop Book are 
here. You can pre-order signed copies (shipping worldwide) here.

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