B ooks & Company, a “like-new used bookstore” in the Whitneyville area of Hamden, is a nookish spot to pick up some summer reading. Among their large half-priced selection of mysteries, classics and new fiction, you should have little trouble finding your next page-turner.
Still, as with a good book, it’s worth slowing down and luxuriating in the rows of prose. The store’s built for hanging out, with worn chairs and couches tucked in enclaves good for scanning the first paragraphs of an intriguing book you’ve picked from the shelves.
In the back, there’s a secluded children’s area equipped with a tiny table for the youngest shoppers, which is just a stone’s throw from another reason you’ll want to stay awhile: Legal Grounds, a coffee shop right inside the bookstore. If you’re like me, the smell of freshly brewed espresso might be enough to pull you away from the stacks.
While Legal Grounds is technically a separate business with different hours, Books & Company owner Linda Mooser (pictured above with Lily, the resident miniature Poodle), who’s owned the shop for 18 years, refers to what they’re doing as “a cooperative model.” If an early bird there to get his morning java happens upon a detective novel he simply must have, the Legal Grounds crew will collect the money for Mooser; she’ll do the same should someone require a cookie once the coffee shop’s closed.
This model also includes Le Petit Gourmet, a bakery with light fare and catering services next door. It’s a separate business as well, but, sharing a door with Books & Company, customers can walk seamlessly from one to the other. The three businesses—all owned by women, by the way—often plan events together such as a fall festival in late September of last year, with crafts, music and food, which drew hundreds of visitors.
Legal Grounds and Books & Co. together just finished a “30 events in 30 days” series, which dabbled in the unexpected. There was an insurance agent’s well-informed talk on the Affordable Health Care Act; a recycling workshop for children; a tai chi session; and “Coffee with Olga,” a chance to practice conversational Spanish with a native speaker.
Even so, as Mooser puts it, “The books are still the thing around here.” The shop uses a trade system to help keep up the supply; people exchange their books for store credit. She looks through all offerings (“Some are just treasure after treasure,” she says of the bags of books she receives) but not all make the cut. “Condition is a bottom line,” she says. If books aren’t quite at the level of quality required for resale at Books & Company, she directs people towards donation sites for local non-profits. Service groups also regularly pick up books that she finds she can’t use in-store.
Along with the used books, Mooser brings in some overstocked books from other retailers as well as new books from authors who do readings at the store, meaning there’s always a variety. During my visit, I overhear a customer say that he never passes by her “recommended” section without finding something that piques his interest. Mooser points to several books during my visit, commenting intelligently on the author and his or her writing—Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, for example—and I get the sense she could do so with many, many more of the titles on the shelves and tables.
Helping to keep the books company are reading glasses, puzzles and unusual greeting cards, some of which are made by local artists. There’s jewelry for sale, too, including some beautiful pieces made by Mooser herself, who hosts bi-monthly beading sessions at the store on first and third Thursdays.
It’s one of many indications that the dynamic, eventful Books & Company really wears Mooser’s heart on its sleeve. “I do it out of love,” Mooser says, and it shows.
Books & Company
1235 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Mon-Wed 9am-6pm, Thurs-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.