Books available from $1 to $10,000
Mt. Airy ‘bookie’ still gambling on ‘a dying breed’
People have a hard time throwing out books, according to Greg Williams, owner of Walk a Crooked Mile Books for the last 15 years. So recycling is one aspect of used bookstores. “We’re as green as you can get,” said Williams. “We accept books as donations or for trade credit when we have room. At the moment, we’re chock full but expect to take books again in November.”
Walk a Crooked Mile Books, a big part of the local community, is in the Mt. Airy Train Station, where Williams also sells coffee in the morning to the commuters, with whom he talks about life, books and anything else.
“One of the appeals (of working at a bookstore) is that I’m the kind of person who is interested in a lot of different things,” said Williams, a teacher for 30 years. “I’m constantly learning snippets of information, even though I don’t get to read whole books as much as I want to. My customers teach me a lot, too. On the other hand, one of the unfortunate things about owning a bookstore nowadays is that you have to hustle all the time.”
Williams also loves words and word play, working on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle with his neighbor Jane Mills; and anyone else who happens to stop by, on a daily basis. Thus, he’s using the term “BOOKtober” as the name for his semi-annual 30 percent-off-sale that runs all of October on all books. Williams claims that “our staff etymologist found this word in one of our dustier tomes and discovered it is an Olde English term describing the month when people go out and buy and store books for the long winter.
“I probably started [loving books] as a kid. I bought my own books and kept them and cared about them even as a teen. Over the years, I amassed a very large collection of natural history books and another of children’s books, mainly through teaching.”
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Williams also doesn’t get to live with his books anymore. When he first leased the property from SEPTA, he lived on the premises. “Eventually the books kicked me out,” he said. There are books in the bathroom, in the kitchen, on top of the bathtub.
Greg and his partner, Cynthia Potter, now have 80,000 volumes at Walk a Crooked Mile, most of which are out of print. “Instead of concentrating on rare and expensive books, I go for those that are interesting to me and my customers as well as those books that are unusual in some way.” He sells fiction paperbacks for $2 and children’s books for $1 and tries to price all the rest of his books reasonably. There are sections in the shop for psychology books, political science, anthropology, literature and art, among many others.
“I see owning a bookstore as a way of keeping the culture so to speak. We have books that aren’t really priceless but that you may not find anywhere else.” Williams points out that used bookstores seem to be a dying breed, and their demise is not a good sign for our culture. We lose a part of our history whenever a used bookstore closes, and that seems to be happening more frequently.
Last year, when economic times were particularly tough, Williams thought he would have to close. He put the word out that he was endangered and got an enthusiastic response from the community. People e-mailed other folks and told them they had to go to the store and buy lots of books, and they did! One woman bought gift certificates for her entire family.
“We ended up having a great Christmas and got back on our feet again. Another goal of opening the bookstore was to be a part of the community and to bring people from the area together. I think that’s one of the reasons people rallied to our support. They appreciate what we do for the community.” Williams organizes several events through the bookstore, which are open for anyone to attend.
One is a yard sale that he holds in the bookstore’s long driveway and nearby bridge. The last one of the season (the eighth this year) will be Saturday, Oct. 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and feature live music during the sale. “We call it the umpteenth yard sale because we’ve done it probably 80 times.” Vendors come from the neighborhood and beyond to clean out their attic and make a fortune, as his flyers say, for just $10 per booth. Williams said that so far, he has never run out of space or good will as people love the fun of seeing neighbors, catching up on news and bargain hunting.
Greg also started a concert series 10 years ago, which offers one show per week of local talent during warm weather months. Williams said, “This summer was our best series ever, with nearly 25 different acts of all types, from 14-year-old first-time performers to old pros like Wanamaker Lewis who have been on the local music scene for decades.” Artists put out a bucket for donations, and though there’s no charge, Williams said people are invariably generous to the entertainers.
During last year’s hard economic times, his performers came to his support as well and put on a 10-act benefit concert, called “Walk a Palooza,” generously hosted last January by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mt. Airy. Proceeds were used to fund this season’s concert series, paying for flyers and for Williams’ time putting up posters and promoting the concert. “This helped relieve some of the economic pressure on us and made this season even better,” said Williams. “We hope to do a ‘Son of Walk a Palooza’ concert this winter.”
Walk a Crooked Mile Books, located in the Mt. Airy Train Station, 7423 Devon St., at the R7 line, is open six days a week, from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The bookstore was featured as one of the six least known Philadelphia treasures, along with the Morris Arboretum and the Rodin Museum, on CNN’s website this past summer.
Williams also sells books on the Internet as part of abebooks.com and alibris.com. Anyone who is interested in setting up a booth at the yard sale, playing at a concert or just visiting the bookstore can contact him at 215-242-0854 or email@example.com. To learn more and see pictures of the store, visit walkacrookedmilebooks.com.