Party celebrates Madeira bookstore anniversary

By Regina Villiers. Originally published January 24, 2001 in The Suburban Life, added January 14, 2020.

Current and former owners of the Bookshelf pose for a photo on the day of the 25th anniversary party. Seated are Louise Borden, left, and Patsy Winn; standing, from left, are Chris Weber (current owner), Robin Nielson, Mary Anne Stenger (current owner), Blair Garvey, Cary Boswell (current owner), Ellie Paulsen, Jeanne Schmidt, Anne Harrison and Nancy Hancher (current owner).

     Back in December, the Bookshelf in Madeira threw a party.  For a book lover, it was the party of the year, the party of the past 25 years.

     That’s how long the small, independent bookstore has been in existence.  The current owners threw the party to celebrate the 25th year of the store and to stage a reunion for all the former owners.  There have been many.

     I, who never go to reunions, went to this one.  Nothing short of an earthquake or playing games and climbing trees with my grandson could have kept me away.  It was a reunion of people who have become like friends and family in a setting that feels like home.

     The Bookshelf, tucked away in a small room, opened in Madeira’s Camargo Station in September 1975.  The three original owners-Blair Garvey, Anne Harrison and Gen Rosenkrantz- began it as a dream.  It was a family effort.  Their husbands built the bookshelves.  Then they bought a table from a wine store, and the antique, wooden, hand-operated cash drawer that had once been in Brownie Morgan’s gift shop on Miami Avenue.  And they were in business.

     It was hard then for small, independent bookstores to make it, but it’s even harder today to compete with megastores, chain bookstores and books being sold online.

     But the Bookshelf survives because it offers more services in a personalized way.  They know your name, and you will get attention there that you won’t get anywhere else.

     Though the Bookshelf expanded and more than doubled its size in 1991, they still don’t have room to carry every book.  But no big deal.   They’ll order anything you want and have it back for you promptly.  I find this much more convenient than traipsing through a huge store searching for something I never find and encountering people who don’t seem to care if I find it or not.  At the Bookshelf, they care.  You get their undivided attention, and they aim to please.

     They will also gift-wrap and mail gift books for you.  They have done this for me, and it’s a wonderful convenience.

     Through the years, there has been a long list of owners and partners.  I’ve known them all, and some have become friends.  Blair Garvey, one of the original three, and I are still good friends.  We share a passion for wildflowers, as well as reading, and we go on regular lunches where we chatter away and keep up on each other’s lives. We matter to each other.

     When Blair and Annie withdrew from the partnership, I worried that I would lose my comfortable spot, where everyone knew my name.  I shouldn’t have given it a thought.  Good, new people took over, and things were as good as ever.  I came to know Prissy Connell, Ellie Paulsen and Jeanne Schmidt.

     Others came and went-Patsy Winn, Dibby Johann, Janet Kindel and Robin Nielson.

     And things couldn’t be better than they are now with the current partners-Cary Boswell, Nancy Hancher, Mary Anne Stenger and Chris Weber.  The store is in walking distance of my home.  I run in just to chat with them or to browse the shelves.  I always feel welcome.  A big table beckons if I would want to sit and read.  I’m sure if I expressed a desire for coffee, a cup would miraculously appear in my hand.  It would appear with a smile.  And I do buy all my books there.  I make it a point never to go anywhere else.

     In return, any of the owners help out on a project I do.  This past year, I received an invitation to write and article on the writings of Lee Smith, a North Carolina writer who has written a string of good, highly acclaimed novels.

     The assignment came from a magazine of excellent reputation.  I was thrilled, but it meant a lot of research and diligent work.  I called the Bookshelf to see what they had available that would help.  Mary Anne Stenger answered.  No problem, she told me.  She personally owned a lot of Lee Smith materials, which she would lend me.  A friend of hers also had wonderful videotape about the life of Lee Smith.  She would borrow that for me.

     Mary Anne, bless her soul, did exactly that.  She lent me her own books.  She borrowed the tape, and she helped and encouraged me every step of the way on the project.  I ask you:  Do you think you’d get the same response at one of the big bookstores? I think not.

     The Bookshelf has the same ambiance that the corner “mom and pop” stores once had.  They know their customers, and they care.

     On the day of the party, there were continuous book signings by local authors.  Louise Borden, former partner, signed her latest “Sleds of Boston Common.”  Also signing were authors Will Hillenbrand of Terrace Park, James Cash of Dayton, Betsy Kyte Newman of Indian Hill, and Cathy and John Celestri of Loveland.

     But the headliners were two of my personal idols-Laura Pulfer and Jim Borgman of the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Signers don’t get any better than that.

     As I said, I don’t go to reunions, so I have no guidelines for comparing this one.  But it was a great party.  I hope there’ll be another one to celebrate the next 25 years.  I’ll try to stick around for it.