One of the best gigs I’ve ever had was working at an independent bookstore called the Little Professor Book Center, just outside of Birmingham, AL (where I’m from). Opened in 1973 and owned by, of all people, a former Birmingham Barons player (Alabama’s minor league baseball team), it was a bit of an institution in the Birmingham metro area—the stopping ground for bookworms and writers like Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish (which was made into an awesome Tim Burton film of the same name), who used to frequent the store when he was a kid. When I was working there in my early 20s, it was one of only a handful of bookstores left in the city. It was homier than your typical sleek franchise store. It didn’t have a cheesy, horn-filled soundtrack that played while you browsed either. And there was no café where orders were hastily called out and lattes nosily foamed during the hectic lunch rush—no, people came to the Little Professor to browse and sit in the armchairs and read in silence (sometimes for hours), and of course to walk up and down the cool metal spiral staircase that ascended near the center of the store.
Nearly ten years later, I’m proud to say the Little Professor is still in business. And as for me, I’m really happy to have found myself in Saratoga Springs, another city that has its own fantastic book vendors, one of them being Northshire Bookstore right off of Broadway (maybe you’ve noticed the “welcome stone” in front of their entrance that says, quite ironically, “Nothing is written in stone.”). Northshire’s Saratoga location (there’s another storefront in Manchester, VT) celebrated its 5th anniversary Sunday, August 5. “It was very casual,” says Chris Morrow, the owner of Northshire. “We had special tote bags that we had produced and were giving out all day. There was also a raffle and a big, book-themed cake and toast for the patrons, employees and customers of the store.”
Like the Little Professor back in Birmingham, Northshire offers something you can’t get at online sellers like Amazon or even at many franchise stores—an experience. “There are three main components to creating an experience that people want to come back to and they’re willing to pay for,” says Morrow. The first, according to Morrow, is the ambience of the store: the oak molding on the shelves, the fake branches that whimsically jut out from the walls surrounding the staircase and the wonderfully colorful and exploratory second floor, which features kids and young adult books as well as a cool model train set (with a kind of “I Spy” list of objects to find in the model) among other toys. The second component, Morrow says, is the selection of the products sold in the store. Morrow’s book buyers (those who decide what to stock on Northshire’s shelves) have decades of experience and are tuned in to what the customers at Northshire want. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, because it’s exactly what online sellers can’t offer, is a knowledgeable and friendly staff. Morrow is passionate about who he hires. “We have employees who not only understand basic hospitality but are readers and can really help people find the right book at the right time in their lives,” he says.
Morrow knows what he’s talking about too. His parents, Ed and Barbara Morrow, founded the original Northshire Bookstore in the heart of Manchester in 1976. Today, the Manchester store resides in a historic, century-old inn that the Morrows converted into a bookstore in 1985. Chris Morrow remembers those early days. “I was nine years old when they opened, so I grew up in the business.” Chris took a break from the book business for a while to go to college and then later to do a stint in the Peace Corps. He came back to the store in Manchester about 20 years ago to take over for his parents (who still have a hand in the business), and he’s been running it ever since then.
Besides books, magazines, records and other for-sale items, the Saratoga Northshire offers a lot of unique events and opportunities to our community. Firstly, it has a huge monthly schedule of authors who give readings, signings and talks. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer will be there this upcoming Wednesday, August 15 for a signing (tickets are $28.99 and include a copy of Spicer’s new book, The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President). Northshire also offers the Open Mind Scholarship, which each year gives college-bound seniors from New York and Vermont scholarships based on essays that demonstrate the power of books to change people’s lives for the better. This year, three winners in Vermont were named because two Manchester patrons donated an additional $9,000, making the award much larger.
And to top off the perfect book-buying experience, there’s a newly opened Jewish deli, Saratoga’s Broadway Deli, connected to the store. It’s both delicious and far enough away from the books so as not to distract from your browsing and reading experience, but close enough so you can grab a quick bite should all those nouns, adjectives and gerunds begin to fatigue you. Speaking of which, I’m pretty hungry for something to eat and something to read. I think I’ll head over there now. Maybe I’ll see you there.