An afternoon spent in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont, is like a few hours in a time warp. This town of 12,005 seems like the place that time forgot. The place was home to hippie communes four decades ago. Those are long gone, but the Sixties vibe remains. Think crunchy granola, patchouli scents and tie-dyed shirts. Think used record stores, vintage clothes (polyester leisure suit, anyone?) and cafes with vegan desserts and bulletin boards plastered with flyers for energy healing, folk music events and carpenters looking for work. Think arty galleries and kitschy antique stores.
The best part of this time warp: several independent bookstores within several blocks of each other. On Monday, I visited four of them. All have their own niche.
The Book Cellar, 120 Main St.
The effort to make this book feel personal—and not like some chain bookstore—is evident throughout. Small notecards indicating staff picks (handwritten) and monthly Indie Bound selections are tucked beneath books on shelves. You can park yourself in the comfy seating area and do a little reading before you commit to a book. Most of the books are paperbacks, but the store carries new hard covers, 15 percent off the retail price. One wall of shelves is dedicated to fiction; the rest of the store is divided into a wide range of subjects. Children’s books are in back. The bookstore, which is in its 64th year, holds author readings.
Brattleboro Books, 34-36 Elliott St.
Picture a bookstore filled to the brim with 75,000-plus used books—and the requisite musty smell. Every nook and cranny is crammed with bookshelves. You are guaranteed to feel overwhelmed by the number of books in this place and end up sneezing because of the dust. Unlike independent bookshops that feature carefully selected new stock, Brattleboro Books seems to have almost everything and anything. Fortunately, the books are divided into subject areas. But don’t expect the books within each section to be organized by author. For a quick browse, check out the section of recent acquisitions, including some books published this year, at the entrance to the store. Otherwise, be ready for some heavy duty neck craning: Many of the bookshelves have additional shelves attached between them on top, like bridges of books connecting the tall bookshelves.
Everyone’s Books, 25 Elliott St.
By everyone, they mean books for people who like a heavy dose of lefty thinking in their reading. This large store was founded by two peace and anti-nuclear activists. In addition to books that describe ways to save the planet, the history of the Students for a Democratic Society, and biographies about radicals, you’ll find some contemporary fiction, science fiction, anthologies, poetry and others. Every inch of the upper walls is lined with bumper stickers: "Magic Happens," "No More Vietnams," "Politicians & diapers need to be changed," "No one is free when others are oppressed." Itching for a “No Nukes” button, a Woodstock poster or an anti-war T-shirt? This is your place. The bookstore also has talks and author readings.
Mystery on Main Street, 119 Main St.
Opened in 2008, this bookstore’s shelves are packed with murders, scandals, missing people, investigations, sordid types, illegal activities and unsolved crimes. The owner, David Wilson, stocks books from big and small presses and, of course, is an avid reader of mysteries. A former editor of a newspaper in Norwalk, Conn., Wilson moved several years ago to Brattleboro, where he exhausted the area’s mystery book stock. Always looking for more mysteries to read, his wife told him to do something about it. Wilson decided to open a bookstore dedicated to the genre. “If it’s a mystery, I’ll probably carry it,” he says. And if he happens not to have the mystery in stock, he’ll order it for you.
Wilson highlights Vermont authors and has readings occasionally. Near the register, you’ll find postcards featuring the covers of pulp fiction, Edward Gorey drawings and old movie posters in this genre.
For a map of the Brattleboro book stores that are Indie Bound, click here.
Bibliophiles will also love this: The town will hold its 9th annual literary festival, October 1 through 3.
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