Brief narrative of my experience of a locally owned bookstore.
Being both an avid reader and writer, I found myself curious as to an older bookstore a friend had mentioned in passing. I had never heard anyone mention the place known as Judy Bug Books before and, of course, Googled it. Lo' and behold, it was shrunken in between two fronts, the only store that did so, window fronts angled inward showing off old children’s books and almanacs. A homeless man was loitering out front, resting against a heavily loaded down bicycle. Two rather old men, one with very little hair and the other with a full grey ponytail were smoking in front of the angled windows, a vintage Coke ice box between them. It seemed lost in time, at least through the stationary lens of whatever camera Google had used to capture the singular moment.
Being eighteen years old, and in between an Army training school and going back to university, I took my step mother out to the downtown area to see the book store as she was bored and it gave me an excuse to go to the store. Parking, as it is there, was a hassle and we walked three blocks to get to the store. Cigarette smoke stunk up the front and the same homeless man was still loitering, though now it doesn’t seem as odd as I know the two gentlemen that own the store feed the man on a daily basis. The children’s books had been replaced with a commemorative Fort Benning showcase, vintage posters and books pulled at the bindings leaned back against a pier-type staircase. My step mother, parched from the three-block walk left me at the front in order to go to the coffee shop for a drink. I was stuck in reverie. This wasn’t Barnes and Nobles or the Books-a-Million I had frequented on the daily basis in suburbia. This was a locally owned bookstore and I had never seen or been in one before. Of course, I had read of them, places characters frequented, sacred space. Finally, I gathered up my anxiousness, bolted it to a wall in the far reaches of my mind, and entered the store.
Whatever I have read in whatever fantasy fictional work had no weight to what I felt upon stepping five steps through the doubled glass doors. I know my heart ached, and my eyes welled. Books have always made me an emotional mess; it's feeling that stays with me to this day when friends request I fix their older volumes. Looking into the store was something different entirely to what any chain bookstore could ever hope to inspire. There seemed to be no organization whatsoever: books on shelves from the floor to the ceiling, no room was left to show any sort of trinkets. The shelves themselves were nothing to be proud of, heavy wooden planks that looked cheap but hardy, and bolted straight into the brick walls. Mismatched shelves sat facing the entrance as though they were church aisles, a narrow walkway reminiscent of every church I’ve visited. Some were short, some taller than myself, all stuffed full of books of every shape and size and age. The shelves were not enough, however, as piles of books accumulated on the floor in the aisles, in unplanned corners, on top of small tables, and even on top of books on shelves themselves.
The two old men I had seen smoking out front some time previous had turned out to be the owners, and now they sat inside, at two separate desks, one on each side of the double doors. To the right of the entrance, the man with the full, grey ponytail sat, surrounded by book collections locked up in glass cases, the likes of which I had never seen before. In those cases, first editions stood proudly in their vintage bindings of Twain and his ilk. To the left of the entrance sat the balding man, his desk invisible from underneath the piles of books in front of it, to the side of it, and on top of it. I’m unsure as to whether or not he even knows all the books are in these piles, though they do seem to rotate titles as I go in time to time. 90s era computers sit on both men’s desks, both set up to take credit or debit cards and the cash register they have is not to be seen anywhere but an antique market.
A total of three couches and two chairs had been shoved into the shop, one couch in the back-left corner with the young adult books, and the rest nearer the front. All were old, thread bare, and cozy. A Victor recorder sat next to one and the owners play it regularly. To the back of the store, in between the young adult corner, and a rather choppy reference section was a self-serve coffee bar, a disaster zone to any food-service observer. Coffee stains were plentiful and tea bags could be found more plentifully on the counter space than in their designated boxes. Ceramic mugs were stacked in the sink, on counters, near the couches, and on tables in between books. A loaf of sliced bread, a toaster, and some spreadable food stuffs were in various locations on the bar.
It was homely as I would describe to anyone wanting to visit, and I have a multitude of times as it is my personal refuge from the outside world. Judy Bug Books has been the backdrop to many a book club meeting and National Novel Writing Month Regional meet-up. I’ve spent countless hours within the confines of the store, sitting on cushions on the floor in various corners, and on threadbare but fluffy couches with mismatched couch pillows. The owners of the store, Alek and Tommy, are exceedingly nice to everyone with whom they come into contact. Alek finds the oldest and best quality editions he can to use for the showcase shelves and they have price tags within their bindings. However, he is rather protective and won’t sell them if he believes they won’t be cared for. Tommy is less particular and reads most everything before it goes on the shelves; it’s actually terrifying to watch as I’ve found the stacks of books near and on his desk are his to-do list.
A few years ago, the store got Wi-Fi capabilities to go along with their Facebook page. It didn’t change any inward appearance of the store as it still seems to be an unorganized conglomerate mess of old and new books. With Wi-Fi came writers with laptops, myself included. The coffee bar remains a hopelessly stained area of caffeinated hopefulness. The 90s era computers remain, as does the antique market cash register that, when used, screeches loudly over any music with which the Victor recorder could hope to compensate. Judy Bug Books has been a home for me when home didn’t seem so homey. I made a decision there who I was going to marry. The starry-eyed look my now fiancé had upon entering the store made the decision for me. To anyone so lucky enough as to have the chance to visit it, Judy Bug Books is a welcoming, book-filled haven to anyone that may enter its doors.