The number of local, independently-owned bookstores across the country has nosedived since the rise of e-readers and online ordering, but in Easthampton, MA one shop continues to thrive: White Square Books.
Owned and managed by Eileen Corbeil, a long-time Easthampton resident, the store is named after La Place Blanche, a notable Parisian plaza that was once home to Degas, Picasso, and other artists. And like its French namesake, the store has become a downtown fixture in the Pioneer Valley town that attracts artists, collectors, entrepreneurs, and in increasing numbers, visitors.
Says Corbeil, "The Pioneer Valley is blessed with a rich but somewhat hidden community of people devoted to books, from authors to illustrators, conservators, binders, printers, and collectors. Our goal, as one of the retail booksellers in the area, is to help showcase the region's literary strengths and talents and to encourage reading and lifelong learning."
The store stocks nearly 15,000 books. About 60% of them are secondhand books that give customers quality for a reasonable price. Another 25-30% of the store's inventory is comprised of rare and collectable books, including hard-to-find first editions. The remainder are new books spanning just-released publications as well as classics. If the store doesn't carry what a customer is looking for, Corbeil and her staff are happy to special order titles.
But White Square Books is dedicated to offering more to the community than good reads. The homey, warmly lit space, with its oriental rugs and artwork hanging on the walls, has hosted poetry and book readings, book launches, musical performances, hands-on workshops, and creative writing boot camps. In 2014, several participants learned how to sculpt clay rabbits during a "Rabbits and Hares Workshop" right in the store's main space.
In April 2015, the store participated in the first annual Easthampton Book Fest, a free event that introduced attendees to new titles, a book binding demonstration, and author discussions. Corbeil helped get the ball rolling for the event. "I have long been a fan of the Brooklyn Book Festival," she says, "and thought it would be great to do something similar in this area. I mentioned it to Burns Maxey, our City Arts coordinator, and she never forgot. Next thing I knew, we had a planning committee."
Thanks to Corbeil's creativity and dedication, White Square Books stands to remain a viable business in Easthampton for many years to come. "I opened the bookstore because it seemed like it would be fun for me, and it is," she says. "But I've learned that bookstores are integral to the intellectual life of a community, and filling this need - and being able to sustain the effort - has been incredibly rewarding. I learn something new every single day."
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