Mecosta Book Gallery
171 W. Main (M-20)
PO Box 370
Mecosta, MI 49332-0370
It was a crisp, bright day "in just spring when the world is mud-luscious" to quote my favorite poet, E. E. Cummings. It was the perfect kind of day for a trip to the middle of nowhere, and that is just where I was headed. OK, "the middle of nowhere" may be teetering on the edge of hyperbole, but it is not at all a stretch to say that Mecosta, Michigan, is well off the beaten path. So what prompted this remote, rural excursion? Why-- a bookstore, of course--the Mecosta Book Gallery, to be specific. This would actually be my second visit to this out-of-the-way establishment having made the trip a few years ago (before my blogging days) on the advice of a former student and high school book club member. (Thanks, Ryan!) My time was limited on that first visit, but I was intrigued by the place and knew that I would eventually return to the Mecosta Book Gallery.
So with my trusty camera and notebook in hand, I hit the road, heading away from the city, away from major expressways, away from traffic, congestion, and stress. Finding the pastoral drive quite rejuvenating and relaxing, I travelled past patient farm fields awaiting spring planting, past cows grazing in the sun, past orchards whose fruit trees heralded spring with floral fireworks. On I went into Amish country where neat farmhouses, well-kept barns, and horse-drawn carriages bespeak a simpler life. On this day I would see no fewer than four such carriages driven by straw-hatted Amish men. My drive would take me through a few small farm towns before I eventually arrived in Mecosta, a sparsely populated village barely three blocks long.
The Mecosta Book Gallery is a book lover's delight, especially for the type of individual who enjoys flea markets, garage sales, bargain hunting, and generally digging for that special item you didn't know you needed. From the moment I entered the shop, I was surrounded by used books--literally floor-to-ceiling--in boxes, on shelves, and in piles waiting to find more permanent homes. Seated behind a counter, hidden from my initial view by boxes and piles of books, was store owner, Alex Rau. I took a seat at the counter on one of several fifties-era soda shop stools while Alex told me about the store.
Alex and her husband John started the store in Mecosta about 13 years ago, but the Raus have a long history in the book selling business. They opened their first store in New Mexico in the 1980's and moved everything to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the 90's. The Grand Rapids store, called the Book Gallery, was eventually moved to Mecosta where it now inhabits a building with its own unique history. Alex explained that it started out in the 1870's as a pharmacy and doctors office. A married couple, both doctors, performed surgery in the back room. Much later the building was home to a drug store and soda fountain. An original tin ceiling and the fountain stools are remnants of that era.
While Alex and John have no trouble acquiring books for the store, space for their acquisitions seems to be more of an issue. Every inch of space in the main room and two back rooms is utilized; even the bathroom has books. One of the back rooms holds wire racks and wood plank shelves of paperback and hardcover adventure books, war stories, westerns, history, and science fiction while the main back room houses general fiction. Old wooden crates, originally used to ship apples from the state of Washington, were acquired by Alex and John from another book seller in New Mexico, and are now used as colorful and interesting endcaps.
Shopping the abundance of the Book Gallery's carefully selected titles is in my mind akin to a visit at an archeological dig. So what treasures did I unearth? On the overflowing shelves, I located three bargains: a Charles Schultz Peanuts Classic in perfect condition, a bestseller, Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiassen, an author I have been meaning to read for quite some time, also in perfect condition, and a historical fiction favorite of mine, Hawaii, by James Michener. My total expenditure: $9.
Gotta love a good bargain.
Gotta love a good bargain.
Unfortunately, I never got to meet John Rau, for at the time of my visit, he was actually across the street at the Book Gallery Annex where even more books are stored and processed. Also across the street is yet another used bookstore. (More on that later)
How does a small, out-of-the-way village support not just one, but two bookstores I wondered? Obviously, their business does not come from people passing through, Alex confirmed. Rather the Mecosta Book Gallery is a destination store with an international clientele due, to some degree, to another local establishment, the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. Who knew that the tiny village of Mecosta was also home to a world renowned author, Russell Kirk, and the center he established for conservative thought and study, attracting people from all over for seminars and retreats. (More on that later too) The love of books is so prevalent in Mecosta that there is, in fact, a movement underway to acquire a grant to make it a book town. I certainly hope they succeed.
So perhaps the middle of nowhere is not such an apt description of Mecosta after all. It may be far from a major city or highway, but I found the Mecosta Book Gallery to be well worth the trip. After my delightful and informative conversation with Alex, I headed across the street to check out the other bookstore in town.
Be sure to read about my visit to J & J Book Dealers.