Pennsylvania’s Small Towns: The Stuff Dreams (or Books, at Least) Are Made ofApril 8, 2015
Last week, the Localist book tour took me around Pennsylvania — to Doylestown, Manayunk (in Philly) and Frenchtown (which is actually in New Jersey) in particular. I’ve been to Philly’s Old City before (and loved it — as any history geek/patriotism junkie would), but I didn’t know how many wonderful small towns were nearby.
These are towns that words like “charming,” “idyllic” and “picturesque” were created for, and they look like they came out of books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women that I’ve loved all my life. Doylestown and Frenchtown could be (and probably are) on postcards, and Manayunk has that charm mixed in strong student/hipster appeal as well.
The bookstores I visited in the Philadelphia area were true to the character of their towns: Each was fantastically curated, had friendly staff and were filled with the kind of personal touches that make independent bookstores unique. Here are a few of my favorite things about each:
The Doylestown Bookshop has the things you’d hope to find at an independent, like a big section of staff picks and great displays of both books you’ve been planning to read and great new books you’ve never heard of. In addition to this, they’re huge — this tiny storefront masks an impressively large store filled with books and book-themed gifts. The staff here is incredible: They’re very knowledgable about books and eager to help. They were very kind to me, even giving me a mini-tour of Doylestown complete with a stop at a nearby coop that sells almost all locally grown produce. I wish I could’ve explored Doylestown all day (if you’re visiting, definitely plan for at least a few hours), but I really enjoyed the time I did have.
I’ll admit, I hoped for a signing at The Spiral Bookcase mainly because the name sounds so wonderfully bookish. I’m so glad it worked out because this shop, tucked away almost under the metro bridge in Manayunk, is packed with great books and little treasures. They carry some new books and some rare books, some children’s books and some art books as well as fiction and non-fiction. The staff set me up with a few titles to flip through during slow moments of the signing, and they chose perfectly. Before I left, I bought a stack of short stories bound up as tiny books; I’ve been reading them in moments where I have just a few minutes and then leaving them behind for someone else to find and enjoy the same way.
The Book Garden is located in a house, and you won’t forget it — the used book room is in the kitchen, and the bathroom is filled with poems tacked on the walls and the shower stall. It’s easy to feel at home here for obvious reasons, but also because the shop is a haven for books and book lovers. The stock is great and includes the kinds of titles that are fantastic but haven’t been promoted heavily, so the shop is full of little discoveries. They carry some unique titles and rare and vintage books in addition to their new ones (the book I bought is one I haven’t seen anywhere else — but it’s a gift, so I won’t reveal it yet). Oh, and Elizabeth Gilbert (who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, as well as one of my favorite books, Last American Man) lives nearby and stops in from time to time — you might even find some of her old books in The Book Garden’s used book collection.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I totally judged my bookstores by the personality and charm of their towns, and I wasn’t disappointed. (I judge books by their covers all the time, so I guess that’s not surprising.) These are truly excellent shops in towns worth planning a vacation around. I feel lucky to have visited and been honored with signings, and I hope I’ll be back.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.