Bookstores as a Third Place

Bookstores as a Third Place

Where do you find your community? What does community mean to you?

Is it the neighbor walking his dog past your house every morning, who waves to you when you leave for work, who checks out your little free library on a weekly basis?

Is it the clerk at your local grocery store, who always has something funny to say, or some kind remark about how you look?

Is it the person you jog past every morning on the soccer field, who raises a hand in greeting and smiles with the warmth of an old acquaintance?

The doctor who tells you you’re the bravest person in the world when you sob after a biopsy? The friend who invites you to eat with her family any time you need when you’re going through a divorce? The husband who leaves little notes around the house, including in the shower and the freezer (on the ice cream carton), telling you he loves you?

Could it also be the homeless man who asks for money as you walk to the parking lot after work? The driver of the car ahead going way under the speed limit and obviously unaware that you’re almost late for a Pilates class? The person who voted for a different candidate than you, who espouses the kind of values that make you cringe or fearful?

As an independent bookseller, we sell to the general public and, with few exceptions (HB2 comes to mind), we don’t take sides in political arguments. We aspire not to judge, we don’t censor. We support freedom of expression, even when we disagree. We don’t carry everything on our shelves, but we will order in whatever you wish, provided it’s legal!

Sometimes being in community is really difficult, like being in a family! As a bookseller, I try and keep an open mind. I’m not a saint; I have my days dealing with petty frustrations or just one big one and I don’t handle things as smoothly as I’d wished. But my main goal, personally, is to be welcoming to all our customers and offer them the possibility of connecting with the perfect book for their needs. I don’t know what their beliefs are, I don’t know where they come from (though I’m always interested), but I see them as part of our reading community, and that’s sacred to me.

Because our country, even our regional community, is divided on how we are best governed, what changes need to occur, and what needs to be valued, our role as independent booksellers is more important than ever. We are that third place other than home and work where people are free, even encouraged, to discuss what’s on their mind, be safe from judgment, to find an escape from worries, whether it be into a fantasy or romance novel, or a book about landscaping to attract birds and butterflies. Perhaps a book about world politics, or how to find a job abroad, volunteering, or finding your creative self.

Please come in our doors and know you’re welcomed. Being in community, rather than building fences and staking out territories, seems like a better way to stay healthy and find courage during troubled times.

Linda-Marie Elizabeth Barrett
General Manager, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe
Asheville, NC


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