Earlier this week, the Daily Princetonian reported that Micawber Books—my favorite bookstore in the U.S.—will close in early 2007. I find this news devastating on so many levels. Chiefly, I think about my personal enjoyment and how the store is an important part of our family visits to Princeton. But Micawber is a fine independent business and a top-notch bookstore and should remain in the landscape to serve as blessed relief from the crappy, generic, soulless chainstores of America.
John and I have been visiting Micawber for the past ten years. John's mother lives within walking distance from the store's location in Palmer Square, right across from the main gates of Princeton U. When we first started visiting, the store was small, selling mostly used books with a carefully edited selection of new books at the front of the store. Each row is graced by a sculpture made from found book objects (typewriters, books, pens, paper, printing blocks) and hung on the wall that runs perpendicular to the shelves. One year we noticed a new bookstore in the adjacent retail space and wondered how Micawber would fare only to learn that Micawber had expanded the new books into a much larger space.
We have this lovely little ritual where we ditch the kids (who are happily playing with their cousins or watching movies on the third floor) with Gma and Gpa and walk downtown. After a quick sushi lunch at our favorite no-frills campus sushi place*, we hit Micawber Books—and hit it hard. While we're no strangers to strong independent bookstore—heck, we used to have a few nearby in St. Paul—there is something special about this one. The booksellers' tastes in books match ours. To a T. Since we are bookstore geeks, we even have a ritual for shopping. We each take a side of the long display tables that run the length of the store, sharing our finds, each commenting that we can't wait to hit the other side. The only rule we have is pick up anything that interests you because, unless you make a physical list, you may never see the book again. I try to limit my purchases to one or two books (for me, and a couple for the kids). Maybe we'll pick up a last minute holiday gift for someone, which is always fun.
The store will be open until March so we will make our final visit in a few weeks. I fear that its spirit will have been deflated. By fall '07, Labyrinth Books, which already has locations near Columbia U. and Yale, will open. The staff picks on their website give me optimism. Even though it will never replace Micawber, I'm pleased that Princeton will continue to support an independent bookseller.
Meanwhile, check out St. Paul's Micawbers, which a long-time acquaintance co-owns.
*I don't even know the restaurant's name, but we love it. Essentially, it's take-out though you can grab a stool and a two-top (the coveted six-top is always taken), and all the sushi is prepared fresh by a sushi chef at a sushi bar. The menu is on a big board opposite the sushi counter. You make your own green tea in a styrofoam cup by adding water from a dispenser to a tea bag; likewise with the packet of instant miso soup. Sushi is served on a disposable tray, like the kind you get with grocery story sushi, and matching tiny trays hold soy sauce.