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Seeking Community at the Local Bookstore


One of the first public places I was ever allowed to go alone as a kid was my local bookstore. It was a small Barnes and Noble location in Ledgewood, New Jersey. Whenever my mom had errands to run in the area, I begged her to drop me at the bookstore. There, I would wander the stacks or sit on the floor and read for as long as I could before she came to retrieve me. This was the late 1990s/early 2000s. I knew my stranger danger. I knew not to leave the store. And while I now know from years of true crime fascination that anywhere can be dangerous, I felt safe within those walls.


It was a small setting as far as a Barnes and Noble goes. No café. No music section. No movie section. There certainly wasn't a horror shelf, though there was a massive row of Stephen King books in the fiction section. But as a kid growing up in a community in between libraries (they were in the process of building a new one and the existing one was tiny), Barnes and Noble was magic to me. I loved it fiercely. Even as I got older and maintaining my mental health became a struggle, I could always count on that place to make me feel at ease (or as to close to at ease as my brain would allow). The women who worked there recognized my by sight. A few even knew I was a writer who longed to publish works of my own. In college, I used to dream of one day having a book release at this very spot.


Today, my long-time local Barnes and Noble is a parking lot. I could quote "Big Yellow Taxi" here. They paved my paradise. In all honesty, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. That place was small compared to other retail spots, but that was the charm, too. It wasn't an indie but it was mine. And I loved it.


In January, my debut thriller Midnight on Beacon Street will be released by Harper Perennial. It's a dream come true. A moment I've wanted since I was seven years old staring up at the stacks of my local Barnes and Noble thinking "one day, I will be on these shelves, too." Recently, my publisher asked me about having a release event and where I might want that to be. I was at a loss. Because the truth is, I don't really have a local bookstore anymore. A place that makes me feel at home. Sometimes, I will drive 40 minute to the Barnes and Noble near my sister's town (they at least have a substantial horror section) if I feel like wandering the shelves but it's not the same. I look at shops like McNally Jackson and WORD Bookstore with longing. Because these are places I so rarely get the opportunity to visit. Then I consider indies like Butcher Cabin Books and Ghoulish Books, which are specifically devoted to the horror genre, and I think maybe I should move. Because I want community. I have community online and it's wonderful, but there's something about a physical place. A gathering spot. Somewhere to wrap yourself in the familiar while exploring the unknown. I miss that.


There are other bookstores in New Jersey. I don't want to diminish the value of them, but none of them are easy for me to visit regularly. And on the occasions when I do make the trip to one, I feel like I'm missing that bond I had with my bookstore in Ledgewood. I grew up there. It knew me. And I knew it.


Now, for a plot twist.


Everything in this post that you've read up until now was written last week. But over the weekend, the impossible happened. I saw an article so unexpected that at first I thought I was having some kind of episode. I was scrolling loosely on Google when I spotted a headline that read "A New Chapter for Barnes & Noble in Roxbury"—I shit you not. The very week I decided to write a pseudo-obituary for my childhood bookstore, it decided to rise like a goddamn Phoenix.


According to the article, Barnes and Noble intends to open a store in the new shopping center that exists where the old Barnes and Noble store stood—a two minute walk from the original store's former spot. It will be situated in a renovated strip of stores. I have often driven by and seen this storefront sitting empty over the last few months. The new store is set to be a little larger than the original location, but not by much, so it will likely retain that cozy charm.


I know this isn't the store I grew up visiting. The layout will be different. The people will be different. But the idea of being able to take that familiar drive to Ledgewood and stop by the bookstore, it feels like coming home to me. My boyfriend can attest that I nearly started crying when I found this out on Saturday. It felt like a tiny miracle made just for me. I called into the abyss, and the abyss said, "okay, fine, just stop whining already!"


Sometimes dreams really do come true, apparently. Who would have thought it? Perhaps this will be a place where I can build community. Reestablish some roots. Walk the rows and find my book sitting there like I've always wanted. I would love that.


[Image Credit: photo of Emily Ruth Verona and friend at a childhood book fair provided by the Verona family]

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