Store: Bartleby’s Books
Location: Wilmington, VT
Recommendation: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Sometimes the story behind a bookstore is as interesting as the store itself. Bartleby’s Books in Wilmington is one such case.
It seems that the owner of Bartleby’s also owned The Book Cellar in nearby Brattleboro.
In April 2011 The Brooks House, a huge, historic building in Brattleboro that housed The Book Cellar along with 14 other stores almost 60 apartments, burned.
The Book Cellar suffered excessive water damage, all the books were lost and the store subsequently closed for good.
Then, just four months later, Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Wilmington store. The entire inventory was ruined this time too, but the store re-opened just three months after the storm.
These two disasters just months apart have made Batleby’s Book something of a legend in the Vermont indy bookstore circles and at least two other booksellers had told me about the stores before I arrived in Wilmington.
It has been two years since the flooding, so it’s no surprise that there is little evidence of the damage.
Other than the t-shirts sporting, “Come hell or high water, Bartleby’s is my Vermont bookstore” and upcoming events with the authors of Deluge: Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont’s Flash Floods and How One Small State Saved Itself and Good Night Irene: Stories and Photos About the Tropical Storm that Devastated Vermont, the Catskills, and the Berkshires you wouldn’t know the store survival story at all.
Bartleby’s is a nice little store. It doesn’t have a lot of the nooks that many stores have. It’s just one big room with a small upstairs area. But that’s enough.
Along the back wall is a self-serve coffee pot, a trend that I’ve seen increasingly through this bookstore adventure. I wonder if this is due to the evolution of the Keurig or if these stores featured a big old fashion urn or carafe before brewing a single cup became so easy.
In front of the register is a long table displaying a lot of books, all facing out. I was unable to discern if these were best sellers, simply popular books or had some other connection to each other. Perhaps it was just an extension of the fiction wall.
Upstairs held some of the non-fiction sections like cook books and a sale shelf.
Ana was working when we visited and she was easily one of the friendliest booksellers I had encountered.
She was very interested in the project and was the first to ask me if I was a writer as well as a reader.
When it came to recommendations, she had ideas in spades. I could have easily left the store with a stack of wonderful novels.
When I mentioned that I was surprised how few stores recommended local authors, she reeled off a half-dozen names for me to check out, most of which the store had in stock.
I ultimately decided to by Ana’s very first suggested title, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.
I’m not usually a fan of war books. I even had a hard time reading the World War II sections of Atonement and I love Ian McEwan books.
But Ana spoke so highly of the book and she was so obviously well-read that I trusted her judgment within minutes of meeting her.
I really enjoyed my visit to Bartleby’s and would have even if I hadn’t known about the hardship the store had endured.
And speaking of hardship, the day after my visit a pickup truck crashed into the store’s front door during a storm.
Luckily the building was designed to survive another flood and little damage occurred, but it does make you wonder if Bartleby’s is jinxed just a touch.
The good news is that even if the store is unlucky, it’s obviously also determined to survive. Come hell or high water or even pickup.