Thursday, January 11, 2007

 

Of my checklist for a decent poetry section in a bookstore, Beth Kanell writes, “we fit the four criteria here at Kingdom Books.” Beth goes on to offer proof as well, two photos of the “poetry room” which you see above, chapbooks displayed with their covers facing out, books lovingly placed in what I take to be clear mylar envelopes.¹ I’ve heard of Kingdom Books before, and even mentioned it here last June when the store co-sponsored a celebration of the work of Joe Brainard. In addition to poetry, mystery and fine press editions, Beth and her husband Dave – he’s the expert on the mystery side of the shop – offer a weblog that pretty much covers anything of literary interest in the upper reaches of New England. In the past week there have been notes on Major Jackson & Bob Arnold.

And upper reaches it is. Waterford, Vermont is, give or take ten miles, roughly 150 miles equidistant from Boston, Orono, Amherst and Montreal. It’s 320 miles from the Lower East Side, just far enough to seem like a good get-away spot for folks tired of the cramped environs of Manhattan. But it’s worth noting some differences, say, between Kingdom Books and the Barnes & Noble at 4 Astor Place, around the corner from St. Marks Church (and St. Marks Bookshop). The most obvious is that the revenue per square foot requirement at Kingdom is obviously quite a bit less than it is for B&N or St. Marks. It’s not only visible in the spacious display of books, but in Kingdom’s announced hours as well:

We are ALWAYS OPEN from 10 to 6
on the second Monday of each month:
Please call for appointments on other days

Beth is both a writer & professional copy-editor while David is a retired college administrator. And the kids are all grown. In short, Kingdom thrives because the Kanells have defined thriving to meet their own needs – this is not an operation calculated to put vast sums in the pockets of some conglomerate. One full-time employee would probably drive it right into bankruptcy. This is especially true since Kingdom seems not very aggressive about selling books over the web (I can see, for example, that I have five books currently on the shelves at St. Marks), tho, if you go through ABEbooks, you can browse the stock.

In short, Kingdom Books thrives for the same reasons that Woodland Pattern, Grolier’s or Open Books do as well – the intense commitment of a few knowledgeable, passionate people. This may not be a formula for getting rich, but it does seem to work for poetry. And you have to admit, Waterford, Vermont, with its population of 1,100 people, is an even less likely locale than Milwaukee.

 

¹ Plastic has the wrong Ph balance and actually hastens the oxidation process of paper.

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