A beloved bookstore lives on

Posted: August 18, 2014

THE BOOKS are mostly moved, the new store is open for business and the torch has been passed.

Mount Airy's beloved Walk a Crooked Mile Books has a new owner, a new space and a whole new chapter ahead.

It also has a new name: Mt. Airy Read & Eat, a welcoming spot at 7141 Germantown Ave.

The independent bookstore, formerly located inside the historic Mount Airy train station, was supposed to close this month.

Devoted patrons weren't happy about that. It wasn't a decision longtime owner Greg Williams came to easily. And, selfishly, it wasn't one I thought should be accepted without a fight.

Every Philly neighborhood should have a funky little bookstore. (It boggles my mind that my Chestnut Hill neighborhood doesn't have one.) So when I first visited Williams in February, I told him we couldn't let such a gem of a place go.

Williams, 65, was realistic. After nearly two decades of running the bookstore out of the back of the Frank Furness-designed station, and lugging thousands of books in and out of the store, his body and budget told him it was time to move on. When SEPTA, which owns the station, ordered the bookstore to stop holding concerts and yard sales outside the store, it sealed the decision.

Williams was coming to terms with calling it quits, but he still wished someone would step in to save the store.

"But who buys used-book stores?" he asked.

I hoped someone would, and not just for nostalgia's sake. Landmark stores close every day and technology has forever changed our book-buying habits. But this store went beyond brick and mortar - it represented history, community and a family of book lovers.

In my first column, I called for a new buyer, deep down wishing I had the guts to indulge a longtime fantasy and buy the place myself. I suggested turning it into a co-op. Other independent bookstores around the country had gone that route, and survived.

But even while trying to rally interest, I realized how unlikely it all was.

And then a couple of months ago, I got an email from Williams saying the unlikely had indeed happened.

"It was totally out of the blue," Williams said. "We started the 'Going out of Business' sale, we were down to 40 percent off, I was all ready to do 50 percent off and then Jake and two or three different groups of people kind of expressed interest and I thought, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' "

Jake Sudderth, 44, a Seattle native with a background in business and publishing, said he saw an opportunity after reading about the store closing in the Daily News. His family needed a little more convincing, but they eventually got on board.

Sudderth, who recently moved to Mount Airy, wanted to run the bookstore out of the train station. But after talking to SEPTA, he said he decided it was best to move to nearby Germantown Avenue to continue the concerts, book readings and community events that had attracted him to the store.

"I think as a small-business owner, you're always nervous," he said. "I'm still nervous, but I'm also very excited about the possibilities."

So is Williams, who plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and his partner, Cynthia Potter, with whom he ran the store.

"It's bittersweet," Williams said, who contractually asked for full book-borrowing privileges to ease some of the pain. "There's been moments of sadness. I'm saying goodbye to an awful lot of people . . . and to books. They're not my books anymore. There has to be a lot of letting go. I have to keep saying, 'This is good, this is good. It will work.' "

By the looks of things during a recent visit, it's already working. Old customers have followed, new ones are coming for the books, the coffee and the food - including ice cream, which is a big hit.

"Fantastic . . . fantastic," I repeatedly heard a man say as he sipped his coffee and perused the shelves of books Williams and volunteers were still moving in.

"How early do you open?" another man asked, adding that he wanted to make the store his first stop every morning.

Check out Mt. Airy Read & Eat on Facebook and at mtairyreadandeat.wordpress.com.

Or better yet, drop in for a book and a bite.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

comments powered by Disqus