My wife and I (and Clara, our five-month old daughter) took a trip to Madison, CT, the hometown of RJ Julia, an independent bookstore that has been remarkably supportive of me and my book. It’s more than an hour away from my home, so up until now, we had never made the trip, but it was well worth the time we spent on the road.
The store itself is a charming, two-story, old fashioned shop with nooks and crannies filled with great books of varying genres. The displays are creative and well designed, and hanging on the walls throughout the store are signed photos of the multitude of authors who have come and gone throughout the years, lending an air of history and weight to the space, making you feel as if you are treading on the ground of giants.
Scattered throughout the shelves, hanging from below hundreds of books, are small slips of paper with written recommendations from the RJ Julia staff, including brief summaries, opinions on the plot and theme, and more. It’s like having a little elf on your shoulder at all times, pointing out and highlighting potential literary discoveries.
And the staff is excellent. Rather than a single checkout counter at the front of the store, two or three checkout counters, plus an information counter, are scattered throughout the space, providing quick and convenient access to knowledgeable employees. During my hour or so in the store, I was approached by two employees, one on each floor, and both offered to be helpful with enthusiasm but without being pushy. And though I’m not sure if it’s encouraged, I saw at least two employees reading when not busy with a customer, convincing me that these were serious readers and people with whom I could place my trust.
My wife and I just planned on browsing today, but more than $100 lighter, we were leaving the shop with a bag full of books, saddened that a bookstore so fine exists so far away but promising ourselves that we would return soon to visit their café and spend more time sifting through the stacks.
As an author of a future Border’s Bookclub Pick for July and a frequent browser and customer, I’m hardly dissatisfied with my local big-box book chains. In fact, Borders and Barnes and Noble are located within 500 feet of one another in the neighboring town, and I spend as much time in these stores as I do in the independent bookstores that dot the Connecticut landscape. If someone has a bunch of books for sale, I’m interested, regardless of the size or scope of the store.
But gems like RJ Julia are not found very often. Walking into the store felt like walking into someone’s home, a home filled with books and people who adore them, and that makes it quite a special place.
I suggest you stop by soon, if you haven’t already.