ROSWELL, Ga. – The Roswell Bookstore has just the sort of ambiance book hounds who roam the stacks of used books always like.
It has a slightly musty smell that only well-thumbed used books have. It has rows of shelves that create a little maze that makes it easy to browse and lose one’s self among the tomes. Best of all, it has those familiar faces behind the counter that would love nothing better than to help you find that book that you can’t quite name, but you’re pretty sure it has the word “Camel” in it. Or was it “Bramble?”
A walk through the stacks at Roswell Bookstore was a singular pleasure I would reserve for myself.
Of course, that meant slinking back to the house with another sack of books in my hand. My Lady Wife has no objection to my reading, or even buying so many books. It is my reluctance to part with any of them that is the burr under her saddle.
There is a good reason for this. No, really. It is a good reason, actually two. First, at my age, any book I read is ripe for re-reading in two or three years. And I would much prefer cozying up to a book I really enjoy than start some new book that I’m afraid won’t be up to scratch.
Nothing irks me more than investing in several chapters before deciding the game isn’t worth the candle.
The other reason for so many books on hand is that there are many books I know I should read, but somehow just have not been in quite the right mood to begin. So they linger like orphans on the shelf, giving me their baleful stare as I pass over them for another read of an old favorite.
I heard the news that Roswell Bookstore was closing – their building is evidently to be torn down in the name of progress. Many remember the store was started by June Senay in 1975. It was near the Southern Skillet restaurant (another old friend gone) for many years before fixing up on Sun Valley Drive. Rey and Cathy Vilar have owned the store these last 15 years, but it has been 29 years a fixture in Roswell.
So they are packing up and moving into at least semi-retirement in Florida. Not exactly a fate worse than death, but it sure leaves me in the lurch. Of course, all they have to do is unload around 70,000 books before they can go at the end of summer.
Cathy and Rey were well suited for the profession. Cathy remembers – as do I – prowling the creaky floors of the Oxford II bookstore in the Peachtree Battle shopping center.
“I had always hoped to own a bookstore, so when my sister’s mother-in-law [June] was ready to get out, I thought we could keep it in the family,” Cathy said.
Rey had been in engineering and at UPS, but he liked the idea of a more stress-free profession that left plenty of time for family.
“It’s not as much money as I had been making. But I had a lot more time to do the things I wanted. And I had an ulcer when we took the bookstore on. I don’t have one any more,” he said.
“You won’t get rich, but I like interacting with the customers,” he said. “You see them come in for years, and then see their kids come in. You watch them grow up.”
Rey always was up to date on the local issues, too. He would always want to have some story I wrote amplified. So I would always try to give him a little deeper brief on the latest goings on.
Betty Williams is the other cheerful face behind the register. She would work mostly weekends as I recall. We would chat also as I browsed. It was just a friendly place.
Cathy was a teacher at Holcomb Bridge Middle School and then at Centennial High School. She wasn’t “out front” much, but she enjoyed organizing the inventory. But no computer ever defiled their space.
“People would just call here and ask for something, and we would just know our stock. Since we all read different things, someone would know if we had it. We just decided we didn’t need a computer,” Cathy said.
That would never bother me. I seldom go into a used bookstore with a particular book in mind. I prefer the treasure hunt. I usually find something I’d forgotten I wanted to read or simply find some book I never heard of but looked intriguing.
And being of a frugal bent (My Lady Wife uses the “C” word), I don’t mind taking a flyer on one book with an interesting title or a particularly well-written flyleaf.
So after 37 years all told, the Roswell Bookstore is closing. Shoot, the way we’re headed, books themselves may be just a memory one day. I don’t think I want to be here for that.