In the Suburbs: Absolutely, a town needs a good bookstore
“What I say is a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. ... It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul …” — Neil Gaiman
We have Neil Gaiman’s commentary posted on our employee bulletin board at the Fairfield University bookstore, and I’ve read it countless times, thinking his little mantra says it all about the value of a local bookstore. I remember commenting to my wife after Borders announced it would be opening a Fairfield store how much we needed a local presence. And we had that presence from 1997 for 14 years, through the spring of 2011.
We liked finding mostly everything we were looking for and often spent a couple of hours browsing the business section in the back of the second floor and in the magazine section, which carried so many periodicals. The best part was not having to drive the extra 10 minutes to Westport for the other big-box store.
The staff was warm and friendly, like my current co-workers, and many of those folks were part of the Borders team. There was a nice cozy feel to the store. People liked hanging out and spending a Friday or Saturday evening in the store. I guess I thought Borders would be there for the long haul.
Unfortunately, Borders’ parent company may have expanded just a little too fast and, even with a 14-year run here in Fairfield, that store was one of 28 that closed in Borders’ long slide down the bankruptcy hill.
We felt that initial bookstore void in May 2011, when Borders was shuttered and we had no idea whether Barnes and Noble or another chain would take over the space. The only interim book tenant was Book Warehouse, a book discounter, and the store had that similar look to the Halloween costume stores — large, empty boxes with few, if any sections.
We really missed our bookstore in town, because it was such a special browsing and gathering place for a quiet evening or a weekend afternoon. Borders gave Fairfield Center an anchor after the Fairfield Department Store closed.
That empty feeling was similar to what we experienced when our favorite bookstore, Remarkable Books, closed in Westport. That store was an absolute gem, selling books and wonderful gift items. And what was truly special about this bookstore was all its nooks and crannies. It was a pink building that just seemed to go and go, and on weekends we could barely move in there. It was stuffy and homey and had a marvelous selection of books.
Fortunately, after Borders closed, we didn’t have to wait long for a replacement to fill the Borders space. In October 2011, the Fairfield University Bookstore opened as both a general book retailer and as Fairfield University’s official textbook location. The store also sold apparel from the university, the two town public high schools and Fairfield Prep, along with stationery items and name-brand gifts. When I walked through the store in late October, I was really impressed with the layout and the selection. And there was a Starbuck’s Café.
The university wanted the store to be a spacious gathering spot for students and families and the community, as well as a welcoming place and a forum for authors. Today, nearly six years later, the Fairfield University Bookstore absolutely lived up to expectations.
As an associate for nearly five years, I love hearing from our regular customers how much they appreciate having a town bookstore to patronize. And our new customers are amazed by what we have to offer, and they come back with friends.
The bookstore has hosted wonderful authors in our upstairs meeting space. We’ve had major celebrity authors including Julie Andrews, Martha Stewart, Nancy Dickerson, Dorie Greenspan and actress Jane Alexander. Children’s celebrity authors like Dave Pilkey and Jan Brett, among others, have created wall-to-wall crowds.
We’re not as small and cozy as Remarkable Books, but we’re warm, welcoming and driven by a desire to serve our community and the university. I think Gaiman would be proud of what we’ve built.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.