September 20, 2009 - 9:42 PM
I’ve been thinking lately about coziness and how crucial it is to my personal idea of a bookshop. The old Athena Bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan, down below sidewalk level, like Mr. Mifflin’s Haunted Bookshop in Christopher Morley’s novel, had books shelved two rows deep. It had leather chairs. It had an old dog. Mr. Mifflin’s bookshop had wreaths of pipe smoke in the air, Athena had none, but the two together were the basis for my own dreams of opening a book store.
When you visit a strange bookstore for the first time, what goes into your first impression? Organization is important, so you can find what you want, but isn’t that second to whether or not the shop feels inviting?
When my father visited my first bookstore, a mere few shelves in an uninsulated shed, he remarked that it needed a big leather chair. In that place, there wasn’t room for one, but in all subsequent locations of Dog Ears Books we have had comfortable seating. “The magic red chair” is the way one of my customer friends describes her favorite. It doesn’t hurt, either, that my husband has a genius for finding old leather chairs. They seem attracted to him as if by magnetism. But that’s another story–.
Lamps, too. Aforementioned husband is an artist, and one of his favorite things to say is, “Lighting is everything!” Bright, well-lighted space is one thing; cozy, intimate lighting is another. Don’t choose between them: provide both. There is still no beating incandescent bulbs for a warm glow, and some corners benefit from yellow or pink bulbs. A yellow indoor-outdoor bulb over the door is particularly inviting on a cold, raw November evening. I’ve tried the so-called long-life, high-efficiency fluorescent bulbs, but in my limited experience they have burned out faster than incandescent, and I’m uncertain and nervous about their disposal. Maybe others can advise me on this?
On slow days when the sun through the windows is bright, I open by turning on only floor lamps and table lamps, the ones that cast an inviting glow in corners, nooks and alcoves. Those lights and an open door are enough to bring people in, and as they advance toward the “stacks” (university library talk) I flip the two switches for the overheads so all shelves are lighted.
One corner up front features two red leather chairs, a couple of smaller cool chairs, a floor lamp and a large low table. This corner has the feeling of a living room and is usually the spot where spontaneous discussions occur, as one by one people are drawn in. “Do you mind if I just sit and read for a while?” someone will occasionally ask. There’s only one answer to this question: “Not at all!”
Lighting, seating, coziness, friendliness are all part of the complete picture. The space must be initially inviting, and the proprietor must reinforce that initial invitation by putting curiosity-seekers at their ease, encouraging them to become browsers, then buyers, and finally repeat customers and friends.