The last stop in Philadelphia was in Manayunk, with Ann (and staff cat Amelia) of the Spiral Bookcase. Spiral Bookcase is full of recessed shelving in white wood with graceful arches and elegant long-necked martini-shaped lights hanging from the ceiling. In short, it’s gorgeous–and Jack’s worst nightmare, because I aspire to “gorgeous” instead of “cheerfully chaotic” in our own store. Ann and Amelia keep the place tidy without it looking military, and its charm swings between the old world gentility of Philly overall, and the energy that young Ann, a DC escapee trained as a folklorist, brings to the mix. (Folklore and ethnography are the same degree, BTW. Ethnography is the “cover” name for folklore on the academic market, as it sounds more encompassing of power structures and psychology, while folklore rings redolent of fairies and plant lore.)
And Ann has LOTS of energy. She is in with the bricks, only two years into her shop. As Jack and I wandered the streets of Manayunk, weaving in and out of wee specialty shops, the Philly-friendly shopkeepers often asked what brought us to town. Well, ask an author in for a book signing that question, and you’re going to get the mother load. Inevitably, the shopkeeper would say, “Oh, so you’re the author Ann has in! I got her email.” Turns out that Ann is not only known, liked and respected (three different things) by the Shopkeepers of Manayunk, she also runs a fall festival and with her husband tries to keep nearby Pretzel Park green and family-friendly. Community: Ann builds and guards it.
We talked about this as we prepared for the signing; she said her shop was as much a space for like-minded minds as a retail concern, that she sold books but also anchored a growing community of “the new kids on the block” —literally. Manayunk has seen recent upgrades and accompanying upheavals, and while it hasn’t quite got everyone on the same team, it has a big enough team of same-siders to be getting stuff done.
I guess all that was on my mind when we started the book signing. A dozen people crammed into the tiny space, knees toward the center and inevitably touching someone else’s, so it was intimate from the word go. Intimate in a nice way, because almost all the attendees were customers Ann knew by name: Suzan the poet; Brittany the part-time shop assistant; Joanna, a local grant writer for the resident dance company; Carol an avid reader who along with another attendee had serious thoughts about starting a used books store someday.
In fact, the whole evening hinged around two concepts: starting a bookstore, and creating community. The participants asked erudite and deep-reaching questions about what each entailed, like “how did you know when you were actually bringing community together, as opposed to people just being quiet and muttering?” Everyone offered thoughts and observations, and laughed at our earnest statement that we thought Manayunk pulled together more than any of the other places we’d seen, and that although we’d only been here two days, we considered it the New Jerusalem of “save downtown and shop local.”
The evening couldn’t have been nicer. On the silly side, Jack discovered “Peeps,” those seasonal marshmallow candies covered in day-glo sugar colors. He found them rather “more-ish” and ate about half the box Suzan brought–which Suzan considered very cute. Guys with Scottish accents can get away with anything.
On the lovely side, Ann is a kindred spirit, a student of one of my academic folklore heroes, Dr. Erika Brady. As we traded notes and munched pizza after the event, Ann said that she used her ethnographic background more as a community bookshop owner than she had in her job in the archives of DC, which had required the degree to get in the first place.
“Knowing and understanding the people who come in, discerning the patterns of the community, supporting both: that’s the best use of my degree yet,” she said.
These photos were mostly taken by Joanna “Jo” Mullins, the grant writer mentioned at the beginning of the blog. That’s shop owners Ann and Amelia (on Ann’s lap) to the right, downtown Manayunk on the left.