I love bookstores. And Coffee.
Whenever I travel, I try to find two things - a local bookstore and a local coffee shop.
During these Covid-19 days, which my governor finally made a Statewide Stay-at-Home Order, I am probably not alone in thinking about what I will do when I get "out".
Books are a comfort to me. They hold hopes and dreams, intention and impact, purpose and promise. I thought about the writers and authors, publishers and editors, the warehouse packers and delivery drivers, the marketers and the retailers, and finally, me, the buyer. All of the many parts that go into me being able to spend a Sunday browsing the shelves, hoping to find a hidden treasure or discover a beloved writer's new work.
The sense of community and place are what brings the two things I love together. If the bookstore also features independent, local coffee, that is even better.
The Covid-19 pandemic is disruptive and frightening, it is the unknown and unseen. It has upended plans and shifted perspectives, it has unmoored a lot of us.
So, it is natural to begin to think about better days. I even popped into my daughter's Spotify to play that song the other day because that is the hope that underlies this season. I sometimes think it is not by accident that this pandemic has shut the world down just as Holy Week begins for the three Abrahamic Faiths. It was in the middle of the shift from winter to spring on the calendar, did you miss that in the daily news briefings? It is spring! It is natural to pine for what we sometimes took for granted as always being there, being available, being a respite from the hustle and bustle of life.
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, I'm thinking about the hope that lies in looking forward to the day when people are saved from the fear of this virus, when it has run its course, and when we can emerge from our homes again, hopefully renewed, rested, and ready to consider each other in a different way.
For me, that will be a beeline straight to my favorite coffee shop and favorite bookstores.
My daughters look around my office and my coffee mug collection and consider that I will never need more of either one. But they hold precious memories and thoughts. Places I've been literally and in the joy of turning pages.
When I get out, I will be visiting again.
These are some of my favorite places:
Left Bank Books in the Central West End in Saint Louis. I love this fifty-year old bookstore for the vast selection of literary arts, poetry, and biographies. They host book clubs and the downstairs is a collector's dream of used volumes. I host a literary circle, so their teen selection keeps this a must-do every year. They don't have coffee, but there is an ice cream boutique just a couple doors down, a taco place around the corner, and at the other end of the CWE on Euclid, is Kaldi's, a local roaster that has been a favorite of mine every since I moved to St. Louis.
In the Delmar Loop, I would visit Subterranean Books for much the same reasons I love Left Bank Books. They are smaller, though, and tend to have more of the literary works the Washington University students would need for class. They have high ceilings and a tiny reading nook upstairs. If one is taking a walk down there, Blueprint Coffee is another coffee roaster but not for the faint-of-heart, don't expect to see sugar or cream readily offered. They love the purity of the bean and have some nice views of the street.
Also in University City on Olive is the region's only children's and teens bookstore, Eyeseeme Bookstore. It was born of the vision of a mother who was homeschooling her children and couldn't find literature reflective of her Guyanese and her husband's African American roots. They wanted their Black children to see themselves in picture books, hence the name. They grew from a few books she wrote to a small storefront to a large store serving the region with some of the best options for diversity in children's and teens literary works. They are also a community educational center and partner for diverse local authors. They are strong advocates for the power of diverse literature for all children to have nuanced stories in their lives.
One of the things I have loved about the Saint Louis region is the access to literature. If I decided to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon strolling the cobblestoned streets of history, I would head west to Old Saint Charles. All along First Avenue are eclectic shops, eateries, and a bookstore I have enjoyed. Main Street Books has a huge collection that belies the view from the street. It has an upstairs with a couple reading nooks and teen selections that would invite even the most reluctant reader. I spent hours there tried desperately to only walk out with two books. The coffee books alone were worth me sitting there for hours, daydreaming and reading. Just down the way from the bookstore is Picasso's Coffee Shop, a favorite for students, writers, and if there on Friday or Saturday night, musicians give their talents to those musing. I love to go there to write, the view of the street is magical. They also have a location on the newer side of Saint Charles on Beale Street (5th) that is a haven for the Lindenwood University students.
What are the favorite bookstores where you live? I am looking forward to going to Washington DC to visit Mahogany Books in Anacostia Arts Center. It is an African American bookstore owned by a sorority sister. I pray the pandemic is over in June and I get to go to my sorority convention an visit cites.
When I was in New York City this past Fall, I couldn't leave without at least a moment in Strand's, the real big one. I visited the pop-ip on Times Square during my previous visit and wanted to see the mega store, it was massive. I was in NYC with my teenage daughter and son who came down from Boston, we were on a walking mission through NYC, so my legs were too tired to take it all in. I want to go back. My daughters ended up with some purchases they enjoyed. When I was in Harlem, the place to find me was Sister's Uptown Bookstore, an independent Black-owned bookshop with a warm atmosphere perfect for browsing. if I had more time to be there the last time I was in Harlem, I would have camped out at The Monkey Cup on Adam Clayton Powell and Amsterdam It has a tree display on the wall filled with books and one of the best oat milk lattes I had while in NYC. It was filled with writers and students. The coffee in every borough I visited in New York City was amazing. I went to one in Bed-Stuy, Daily Press, that would have been my home if I lived there and needed a spot to write on a Sunday afternoon.
In Boston, my son used to live in Newton. It had an opportunity to visit Newtownville Books and J Licks ice cream and coffee. We were walking in the evening, so the inviting windows are what drew me in, it wasn't a planned stop, but a delight all the same.
In Columbia MO, there are bookstores and coffee shops all downtown. The ones I love the best are Skylark Bookshop on 9th Street and Shortwave Coffee is my go to. It is in the alley and a little tuck away from all the main activity. It is a great place for a wonderful pour over and studying.
When I was in Denver, we were there about ten days, which gave my girls time to enjoy the 16th street mall and me time to spend hours in Tattered Cover Book Store. I loved that place! If I lived there, that is where you would find me. It also had a cafe, so bonus!
Fairhope, Alabama was a short distance from where were were vacationing on Orange Beach and Point Clear, Alabama. It was a ten day trip, so the girls were younger with the beach being the only thing on their mind. We were able to visit little shop, take walks, and then, found this little slice of heaven. There were lots of writers who called this part of the Gulf Shores their home. It would be my writer's haven if Covid-19 ever frees me from my home and I get to do a year tour of all the places I love to muse. There was a little bookstore on the cobblestone streets called Page & Palette.
Take A Sunday and consider where you would visit when you are able to open your doors again.
The big stores will be there and in some places, are where I find myself if it is close proximity to my hotel or time does not permit me to tour the entire area. Bookstores are familiarity to me, so I gravitate to one, they tell me something about the region, even the big ones are all different in each city.
Kansas City, Iowa City, Chicago, especially Oak Park, Rehoboth Beach Delaware, Los Angeles, Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Jackson, Edgewater NJ, oh the caffeinated literary journeys. What about you?
I have books, journals, and mugs from almost every place I've visited. It holds memories for me, I've always believed that memory is a place we hold dear and invites you back to discovery.
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