Holiday shopping season is in full swing, and for many shoppers, that means perusing small shops and boutiques in search of that perfect gift.
There is, after all, something enticing about hunting for gifts in local shops all decked out for the holidays. And perhaps no shop is more intriguing than a small, independent bookstore.
The Best Gift
Whether or not you have a bibliophile on your list, local bookshops have a lot to offer when it comes to gift-giving.
Take Ideas Bookstore in Kimberton. Shoppers can pick up beeswax candles, advent calendars and other items, but owner Shannon Chamberlin insists if you’re really searching for the perfect gift, the place to look is on the bookshelf.
“I think a book is the best gift,” she said.
And while many people may agree with her, they might also wonder why shopping for a book in a small, independent bookstore is better than shopping online. The truth is, local bookstores often offer unique ideas for books that you may not otherwise find online.
At Reads & Company, in Phoenixville, owners Robb Cardigan and Jason Hafer, strive to carry books that specifically appeal to locals.
“We want to be known as a curated bookstore,” said Cardigan, who along with Hafer opened the shop in May. “We sell New York Times best sellers, but we also carry things we think will be of interest to our community and to Chester County.”
Shoppers will find shelves stocked with books about the area and unique reads by local writers.
“Independent bookstores have their own vibe,” Cardigan said. “We try to introduce people to new authors.”
They do that not only by featuring local books, but by hosting author events, book clubs and children’s programs.
One thing that sets Reads & Company apart from other bookshops is a section called “Community Picks,” featuring books recommended by other locals—high school principals, librarians, other retailers.
“That’s been a very successful section for us,” he said. For gift-givers, knowing a book has been selected by a neighbor can make the gift even more distinctive.
“A book has always been a great gift and remains so, especially a book that is recommended by someone,” Cardigan said.
Another popular gift? An autographed copy. Reads & Company has a section of author inscribed books that make for truly one-of-a-kind gifts.
Several local bookstores have specialized areas of interest, enabling shoppers to browse for books on a specific topic. At Ideas Bookstore, the main focus is on books by and about Rudolf Steiner and his ideas.
Steiner was an Austrian scientist, philosopher and social reformer whose ideas included biodynamic agriculture, Waldorf education and the Camp Hill movement, among other things. Chamberlin said she opened the bookstore six years ago primarily so that people could access works by Steiner and learn about his ideas.
Locally, with several Camp Hill communities and a Waldorf school nearby, those works are of particular interest, she said.
In Lansdale, tucked away in the Dresher Arcade, is the Black Reserve Bookstore, which also has a unique theme, specializing in African American literature.
Owner Shaykh Anwar Muhammad said he opened the shop in 2017 because he wanted to introduce more people to the Black literature that he says changed his life.
“Published authors changed my existence. I want to gift that to other people,” he said. “I have books you can’t find elsewhere.”
But he stressed that the shop is not intended to serve only the African American population. People of all races can find great books in his store that can broaden their horizons.
“In terms of race relations, I think ignorance plays a part,” he said.
Gifting someone a book about a different culture is a way to provide them with a new experience, he pointed out.
“They get to go places they wouldn’t think of going before,” Muhammad said.
In addition to purchasing books, shoppers will find jewelry, soaps, body oils, art and more gift items.
“It’s not a store, it’s an experience,” Muhammad insisted. “People owe it to themselves to experience the Black Reserve Bookstore.”
A Perfect Children’s Gift
“There’s nothing nicer for a child than a pretty picture book,” declared Chamberlin, of Ideas Bookstore.
Her shop carries a selection of colorful children’s books, and includes a cozy nook where young shoppers can sit and immerse themselves in a tale while their parents browse.
Both Reads & Company and the Black Reserve Bookstore also boast robust children’s sections.
“I think people are getting away from reading and that’s bad,” said Muhammad. “A lot of my education happened outside of school.”
He noted that black children often don’t “come into contact with children in stories that look like them.”
He says he’d like to see all children reading more books and playing fewer video games. A book can give children new perspectives that fuel their imaginations and may even change their lives, he believes.
“Give the children the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.