I challenge you (and myself!), as the days grow longer, to make a fun road trip to an independent Alaska bookstore -- perhaps even one you haven't visited before. But first, let me explain what prompted me to make this challenge on a post-inauguration day of hope, festivity, and responsibility.
Reader and blogger Rose let me know yesterday about the sad closure of an independent Milwaukee bookstore chain called Harry W. Schwartz, where she once worked and where I did a signing in 2007. The original store had been open for 82 years. A statement attributed the closure to our recent economic downturn, a hard blow following the 2004 death of A. David Schwartz, who had taken over the chain from his father.
I loved what A. David Schwartz had to say about his profession: "Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.
You'll see Title Wave in Anchorage, my "happy place," mentioned at 49 writers a lot. (I think it rivals many West Coast used/new combo indie bookstores.) But I've also meant to blog about Alaska's other notable indie bookstores.
In August, I did some signings at two Mat-Su Valley shops: Fireside Books in Palmer, and Pandemonium Books & Cafe in Wasilla. I'd never been inside those stores before. I hadn't even known they existed.
What a wonderful surprise to meet co-owner David Cheezem at Fireside, a small but atmospheric and well-stocked downtown shop with lots of great staff book recommendations (I bought an Orwell biography I've posted about since) and a friendly, book-loving staff. Cheezem himself is an interesting renaissance guy. He ran for political office unsuccessfully last fall, and writes daily poetry that he posts on Facebook, among other things. At Fireside, I was unable to restrain my husband from going on a book-buying binge, including both used and new titles. He bought so much they threw in a free totebag.
A few hours later, at the very modern Pandemonium Books in Wasilla, I was impressed by the incredible gourmet desserts at the gleaming cafe, plus the community room and a special dedication to educational books that would make any homeschooler feel particularly welcome. Even the bathrooms are gorgeous. Someone there has a taste for interior design, as well as literature. Who could have known that the town that gave us Sarah also has such a great and welcoming indie bookstore? Pandemonium just opened last summer, which might explain why some of us city folk have been slow to discover it.
Either of these stores are worth the drive from Anchorage, and I bet there are others. I've heard that River City Books & Cafe in Soldotna is a great place to spend a few hours, if you're down that way, fishing or camping. On my past Southeast Alaska trips, I always enjoyed checking out Parnassus Books in Ketchikan (great gifts in addition to books) and Old Harbor Books in Sitka. Last summer, I popped into teeny-tiny Girdwood Books & News and came away with some original paperbacks from the 1950s for a few bucks each. Other Alaska favorites include the Homer Bookstore, and Orca Book & Sound in Cordova. Next time I'm in Fairbanks I plan to check out Gulliver's.
Do you have a favorite Alaska bookstore or even better, a story about something special you found or experienced at an Alaska bookstore? Tell us. It's hard to imagine now, but someday soon we'll get one of those sunny, slushy days where you just want to drive, and a bookstore/cafe makes an excellent destination or refueling spot. If you're a bookseller, tell us why you do it and how the business is going.