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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rockin' Robbins

Robbins Book List
320 S. Lafayette Street
Greenville, MI 48838

What does a bookstore have in common with a Radio Shack? Well, for most bookstores, practically nothing. Now I have encountered many bookstores with caf├ęs or coffee bars, I frequent a bookstore featuring a wine bar, and I have even visited a bookstore with a puppet theater. But not until I stepped into Robbins Book List in Greenville, Michigan, had I ever seen a bookstore paired with a Radio Shack. That's right, this small-town bookstore has a door connecting it to a Radio Shack, an interesting combination to say the least. During the winter months it is often difficult for me to travel far in my search for independent bookstores, so as you can imagine, I was pleased to discover a promising shop not far from my home in Lowell. Though it is not a Lake Michigan coastal tourist town like so many I visit, Greenville happily boasts a bookstore. So on a cold, but not so snowy day, I set out on the brief 20-minute drive to check it out.

I had only been in the shop for a few moments before I was offered assistance by Kevin Powell, the friendly store manager, who explained how this unique store pairing came about. For the past 30 years, owner Doug Robbins has run the Radio Shack business housed in what was once a clothing store. Then about 16 years ago, he decided that he wanted to make use of a large storage area in the building, so he cleaned out the space and voila! Robbins Book List was born. Perhaps I should say reincarnated as all of the store fixtures--shelves, tables, desk, display racks--were purchased from a store that had to close up shop in Florida. Well, Florida's loss is Greenville's gain, and Kevin says that Robbins enjoys strong local support.

The bright yet cozy shop features carpeted floors and natural finish bead board paneled walls. A comfy separate reading room is outfitted with a coffee pot, a loveseat, a wingback chair, and accented with interesting vintage items--an aged manual typewriter, a framed old photograph, a floor-standing world globe. What most caught my attention, however, was the antique wood crank-up telephone. Even at my advanced age, I can only claim to have used a dial-up wall phone as a child, my experience with the crank-up model being limited to the Waltons and other similar TV shows. How marvelous, I thought, that just through an adjoining door, I could purchase a smart phone. Old meets new, and traditional meets high tech in this store.

Robbins has a relatively large children's area, one of his three biggest sellers, Kevin says. Christian books comprise another big seller along with books about Michigan and products produced in Michigan. In particular, I noticed a collection of beautiful notecards by a Michigan artist near a display of lovely Celtic art on porcelain, handcrafted in DeWitt, Michigan. Appropriately, Celtic music played softly in the background, and Kevin informed me that the band I was hearing, Peat in the Creel, is comprised of local West Michigan area musicians. I was surprised to learn that Robbins Book List had presented two free concerts in the past year, no small feat considering the size of the store and its lack of open space. Kevin explained that on both occasions he burned the midnight oil, staying late in the shop to move shelves and set up for the shows.

Robbins is also pleased to host author events, featuring a local author every month or two. Concerts and special events can require a great deal of time and effort, but it is apparent that Kevin enjoys managing the store. After 16 years in printing and advertising, he says managing the bookstore for the past 5 1/2 years is much more to his liking.

Robbins has a good selection of popular book titles, and the store also does a fair amount of special order business. Displays of bookmarks, lap desks, journals, Magic cards, hats, and the like are also prominent. As a matter of fact, my purchases on this trip were all non-book items: a set of decorative coasters for the cottage, a piece of Celtic art for a special someone, and a Peat in the Creel CD to play in the car. 

As I listen to that CD next time I take a road trip, I will remember fondly a cold day in Greenville and a warm, friendly visit at Robbins Book List.

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