About This Blog

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm not on board with the whole ebook thing. I enjoy books in all their formats. But there is nothing quite like a bookstore with its neatly arranged shelves of books and artfully created displays of new arrivals, best sellers, and suggested reading. I especially enjoy discovering small, independent bookstores and have made it my mission to visit and report back on as many of these gems as I can. That is my focus, but there is really nothing that is off limits as long as it is about books or reading. Hope you enjoy my blog and come back often.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Other Mecosta Bookstore

J & J Book Dealers
196 W. Main
Mecosta, MI 49332

Recipe for a new bookstore:
Take one self-described bibliomaniac with years of experience and mentoring from experts in the field. Add one artistically talented spouse with a love of all things vintage. Mix with generous amounts of passion, hard work, and of course, an assortment of gently-used books. Patiently blend all ingredients in a location with a proven appreciation for the printed word. Tend carefully and enjoy serving new customers.

Less than a year ago, Jim Aldrich and his wife Jacqueline began mixing their unique experience and abilities to cook up a savory new shop, J & J Book Dealers, in the small village of Mecosta, Michigan. 

In the same way that a good loaf of sourdough bread begins with a starter from the mother dough, J & J got its start across the street at the Mecosta Book Gallery (see Books, Books, Books) where Jim began working when he was in his teens. Under the tutelage of Alex and John Rau, young Jim learned the ins and outs of the book selling business eventually developing the idea of one day having a shop of his own. So when a former real estate office in Mecosta became available, Jim and Jacqueline jumped at the chance to turn it into J & J Book Dealers.

An impressive, hand-painted, 3D sign resembling an open book beckons visitors to the store while a smaller sign hangs over the door. Inside, the shop is filled with friendly, homey touches like checked curtains, tablecloths, and soft music--mainly Jacqueline's doing, Jim says. They seem to have worked out a symbiotic method for managing the bookstore. Jim handles the day-to-day routine while Jacqueline is, as Jim says, "in charge of aesthetics." Jim makes the signs, and Jacqueline paints them. Jim acquires the books and Jacqueline creates the displays.

In addition to books, a selection of old typewriters is on display in the front room of the store, and yes, they are for sale. Jacqueline also has an online vintage clothing and book business. The two have plans to eventually sell vintage clothes in the bookstore as well.

From the outside, this store looks deceptively small, but as I noted in a previous blog post (see Bay Leaf Books), you can't always judge the size of a bookstore by its street front. The building that houses J & J Book Dealers is a shotgun style, deeper than it is wide. The main room at the front of the store houses literature and poetry giving way to a succession of rooms where shoppers will find additional genres neatly shelved and labeled. There is even a children's and young adult section.

From J & J's varied offerings, I selected two titles for my own enjoyment. One of my favorite classical works is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Since I do not own a copy, when I discovered a paperback version in like-new condition, I selected it immediately. To satisfy my penchant for historical fiction, I also selected the Civil War novel, Jacob's Ladder by Donald McCraig.

I found myself wishing that I had more time to spend at J & J Book Dealers. Had I known that the small town of Mecosta was actually home to two bookstores, I might have begun my journey earlier in the day. Perhaps it was my subconscious desire for more time in the store that prompted me to absent-mindedly leave my notebook behind, a fact which I did not discover until I was nearly home. The annoyance with myself for forgetting this vital information was only temporary. This did, after all, give me a perfect excuse to return to the store.

The next day when I collected my notebook, I had an opportunity to learn more about the Mecosta area when I asked Jim about the Russell Kirk Center that Alex from the Book Gallery had told me about. Jim described it as something akin to a Walden-like retreat, a secluded spot where scholars from all over the world come to attend seminars, do research, or write. 

Piety Hill
The Center consists mainly of Kirk's house (known as Piety Hill) and library, but some housing is available in nearby buildings for graduate students doing thesis work. Kirk passed away in 1994, and his wife Annette is now the president of the Center. A prolific writer, Kirk authored both fiction and philosophical works, and on this visit to J & J Book Dealers, I purchased his memoir, The Sword of Imagination.

Flyer created by Jacqueline for the music festival

Before I left the store, making a point this time to remember my notebook, I learned from Jim about yet another place of interest in the Mecosta area. A few miles south of town lies the Wheatland Music Organization, home to the Wheatland Music Festival, drawing thousands of participants on the first weekend after Labor Day to enjoy traditional, folk, and bluegrass music. 

The organization sponsors other activities and events including instruction on a variety of musical instruments. As it turns out, Jim was once the recipient of a Wheatland scholarship through which he learned to play the guitar and the mandolin.

For more information about the Wheatland Music Organization and the festival, click here: Wheatland

The small village of Mecosta--in the middle of nowhere? Well, maybe not. Home to a respected writer/philosopher as well as two bookstores and a stone's throw from a popular music festival, this little village may be off the beaten path, but it is quite a destination.  

Additional note:

Passing through Amish country on my way home from Mecosta, I took the opportunity to stop at the Amish Farm Country Cheese House where I purchased several varieties of artisan cheese. Just south of Lakeview, Michigan, this small store produces cheese on site, and visitors can watch the cheese makers in action. Don't be surprised if you see a horse and buggy parked out front. 

Click Cheese for more information.

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