In the Suburbs: Fairfield U Bookstore marks 10 great years

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Fairfield University Bookstore. So far, it’s been a great ride for the store, which has certainly fulfilled the vision of our former boss, Jim Fitzpatrick as an anchor store for the town. Jim recently retired from Fairfield University after a long and successful career, but I really enjoyed our conversations whenever he stopped into the store.

I joined the Fairfield University Bookstore family in 2012, just under a year after the store opened and I have learned so much from my various managers about what makes a successful bookstore. But I have learned so much more from the wonderful and very savvy customers who have supported us by keeping their book buying business here in Fairfield and never hesitating to let us know when we need more copies of books or if we may be missing a valuable title.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have enjoyed helping many new customers discover that we are not strictly a university bookstore. We are so much more. Our trade books selections, thanks to my boss Craig, who is our trade book manager, are always up to date; and our children’s book department is a large and real wonderland for kids of all ages.

Until COVID, our list of author events was long and really interesting and after we re-opened, thanks to Craig’s ingenuity and the creative promotions executed by my colleague Nancy, we had some wonderful virtual events that kept up our customers’ interests.

One of my fondest memories about the Fairfield University Bookstore was an evening just after the bookstore opened 10 years ago when a friend of mine — now a resident of Lynchburg, Va. — Bob Gillette, talked about a new book related to some Judaic history in Virgina. Bob’s presentation was probably one of the first at the new bookstore and he spoke in front of a large crowd of fans and old friends.

Craig reminded me that he had to push empty, future textbook shelves to the side in this newly opened store to accommodate as many chairs as he could. But the audience didn’t mind. They came for an evening with Bob Gillette and the bookstore staff made it happen.

Since that evening, I’ve lost count over the years of how many noted authors or celebrities-turned-authors have come to share their stories.

Among those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting were Julie Andrews, promoting a book she had co-authored with her daughter; Martha Stewart introducing a new book of recipes; Dave Pilkey (author of “Captain Underpants” and his Dogman series) mesmerizing one of our largest crowds with more than 200 people on a Saturday afternoon; Laurie Halse Anderson, whose book “Shout,” was a fictional version of her own painful coming of age; and Jane Alexander who spoke about her book on the environment.

Author Jan Brett came to the bookstore on a chilly November night to promote another of her wonderful children's books and I got to be her personal "hedgehog." That was very exciting and the crowd was huge. I loved getting to meet her through my fur.

More recently we were treated to an afternoon with Piglet, an adorable blind and deaf chihuahua and dachshund mix. Piglet’s brilliant visit showed how this remarkable and inspirational dog has mastered his environment through tap commands from owner Melissa Shapiro (a veterinarian) from Westport. Everyone who came that day fell in love with Piglet and Melissa’s book by the same name.

Some events over the year brought in large crowds and had to be held outside of the bookstore. One in particular featured beloved author and Newberry Medalist Kate DeCamillo (“Because of Winn-dixie” among so many others). Demand was so heavy for the event, which was held at Roger Ludlowe High School, that Ms. DeCamillo graciously stayed well beyond her allocated time to speak with the hundreds of families and other fans who attended. She was truly amazing and was gracious to all.

When the late Harper Lee’s unpublished novel “Go Set a Watchman,” a followup to her highly acclaimed “To Kill a Mockingbird,” made its debut, our bookstore’s creative team created an all-day read-in. I was lucky enough to participate and the event was very well attended and a lot of fun. Sadly, the book did not maintain its initial popularity.

There have been so many more memorable things that happened over the eight-plus years since I’ve worked at the Fairfield University Bookstore, but talking about all of them would have created a novella instead of a column. Let’s just say that for me, the experience of working at the bookstore has been so valuable and I’m glad I’ve been able to work, even through the re-opening phases after the COVID quarantines.

I hope I’ll be able to share in more of those wonderful times as we move into our 11th year and beyond. I believe we are a great place for students and their families and our local customers to share a cup of Starbuck’s coffee, browse the bookshelves and clothing department or view the latest creative arts and crafts exhibits in the stairwell leading to our second level.

Happy anniversary to the Fairfield University Bookstore.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.