• Arleigh Rodgers

Observation: The Bookery

“Shopping mall” is a loose term for the Dewitt Mall, located at 215 N Cayuga Street in Ithaca, NY. The indoor stretch of shops is home to the Dewitt Cafe, the backdoor entrance to the Moosewood Cafe, and several local clothing shops. What is essentially the length of a primary school hallway hosts such variety in a way where things don’t feel crowded, even during Sunday’s brunch hour, when the Moosewood and the Dewitt Cafes crowd with hoards of hungry college students and weekend visitors alike. The former group stuffs the cafes’ four-person tables and piles mugs of coffee on the table while the latter may wonder, staring at the specialized brunch menu, what item best satisfied their appetite. Their vigorous clamor exists agreeably with its surroundings.

But a Saturday afternoon in October hosts no such rabble. The hallway is quiet, even though the cafes are open. The quiet continues into a small space in the Mall, a mazeless, two-room bookstore called The Bookery. In front of the exterior wall, which faces the rest of the Dewitt bravely, is a rack of $1 paperback books, which laid together looks like an ear of calico corn, each book a kernel on the rectangular taupe rack.

This rack is a prelude to the store’s entrance, and the following room holds books marked up to 50% off their original price. A forest green David Copperfield, complete with intricate black-and-white illustrations and matching versions beside it, is $7.50. The Cider House Rules by John Irving is $1 (That’s because of the discount, not because the book was on the rack outside.) There are sections for poetry, fiction, history, children’s literature, and nonfiction. The front register (the table, really — all transactions are written on a notepad, in reality) has prints on display for sale, including monochrome pictures of London, so detailed they shine despite the lack of color. Even the bookcases and tables upon which the books sit are for sale.

The Bookery is closing.

45 years into its run, the bookstore will close its doors in November. Hence the books on sale. Hence the need to sell the furniture.

Perhaps liveliness and benign chaos once swarmed the bookstore, for it is not hard to imagine The Bookery being a welcoming entertainer to the college students and the weekend attendees sitting who, if they attend brunch on the weekends, often sit so close by. It’s not difficult to wonder if ernest readers sought out the store and, in their curiosity, stumbled upon the rarities the store offers. But this Saturday, The Bookery is host only a few people, one of which includes the woman at the welcome desk.

But the presence of The Bookery is not in the number of people that visit its two rooms but rather in the guest book sitting by the register.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. Appreciate all you’ve held for so long. Thank you,” wrote one person. Their handwriting is erect and spaced-out, each letter almost blending into the one before or after it. The note above this one writes, “Thanks for a good run. Happy Travels —”

The Bookery hosts rare and unique findings, including a wooden hutch of first editions, upon which a note asks customers to seek assistance before opening the bookcase. A less-displayed but unique nonetheless finding rests with the London prints — a postcard addressed to Miss Gladys Ridley, Ithaca, N.Y. A spidery, slightly illegible hand writes this brief note, a promise of later notes, a poem of sorts. Her message is mysterious, the origin of it even more so. Miss Ridley’s correspondence, unless purchased by a wandering weekender or a college student or some other curious attendee to the store’s closing ceremonies, will be known by only those who have read through it once — a parting gift to the eyes who searched for a picture and found a story instead.

I will write some

day, just recovered

from the measels

haven’t worked

in Two weeks.

Love to alice.



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