The Bookstores of Philadelphia

Well, the houses are big and beautiful, and the bookstores are closing and opening.

Not all of them, mind, but Philadelphia is losing Robin’s Books, one of its oldest and largest stores. The current proprietor, turning 70 this year, inherited it from his grandfather, and kept it running more than thirty years.

But all good things come to an end, and in its ending, other stores find their forward thrust and even beginnings.

Philly still has bookstores: today we visited the Crooked Mile, with its 70,000-strong stock count, another one that was snooty so shall remain nameless, and then Ann’s very cool shop, The Spiral Bookcase. Spiral is a primarily used bookstore, although Ann had gone to a lot of trouble to make a lovely display of my new book, complete with paper sculpted teacup.

Ann’s only been in business two years, and her staff cat Amelia has been in position less than six months, so it’s a new concern all the way around. All the better, then, that it got voted Philadelphia’s best bookstore this year.

It is a bummer that Robin’s is closing. They did all the right things: moved from predominantly new to mostly used; changed their hours to meet the needs of the changing populations downtown; even stopped drawing salaries and just took living expenses from the store.

But as they are going, it is very nice to see the young blood coming: Ann is energetic, her store is full of white Ikea shelves she assembled herself, and Amelia is an excellent customer relations specialist. Clearly they have a bright future. It is not “bookstores are doomed.” It is the circle of bookstore life; as one door closes, another opens. Huzzah for we happy few, we band of booksellers.

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