Books Take Care of You
By Joseph Montebello
“I owe independent bookstores a huge debt since they made it possible for me to have a career as a writer by handselling my first book and hosting in-store events. They are a huge part of what makes reading fun.” So says Litchfield resident Martha Hall Kelly, bestselling author of Lilac Girls and Lost Roses.
She is not alone. Whether you listen, scroll on a device, or hold a printed version in your hands, reading a book is one of the most joyous ways to amuse, entertain, and inform. Escape into a fantasy, a conflict, a romance, learn new facts, or discover the joy of poetry.
Here in Litchfield County we are fortunate to have two extraordinary independent bookstores—Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot and House of Books in Kent—both voted favorites in our recent Readers Choice survey.
The Hickory Stick will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2021 and has been owned by Fran and Michael Keilty for the past 17 years. It is the mainstay of Washington Depot and attracts customers from many corners of the county. Everyone who frequents the shop agrees that Keilty and her staff always have spot-on recommendations. She has been working diligently to provide the best services during the pandemic. One can visit the shop during reduced hours, arrange a private appointment, order online, and pick the order up in the store, curbside, or it can be shipped. “Thanks to our extraordinary staff, whose courage and determination has been a huge factor in being able to serve the community and our customers,” says Keilty.
House of Books is Kent’s literary landmark. It was founded as a family business by Carol and John Hoffman in 1976. Ownership was passed on to Jim and Gini Blackketter in 1991. Robin Dill-Herde, a former employee, purchased the business in 2013, concurrent with the Kent Barns restoration. When the owners decided to sell the bookstore, Peter Vaughn stepped in. He firmly believed in the importance of having a bookstore and has kept the tradition going. Housed in a temporary space in Kent Barns, it will move to its original home on North Main Street once renovations are completed.
“We have been open by appointment only during the pandemic,” explains Vaughn, “and our online business has been amazingly strong. When I took over the shop I knew I had to find the best general manager I could and Ben Rybeck is that person. He has kept all the balls in the air, has conducted our Zoom events with amazing ease, and carried on in spite of the pandemic.”
Our readers have made it clear that both shops are indispensable to our communities.
Lisa Taddeo, author of the bestselling Three Women, describes this aspect of a bookstore:
“On rainy days, in rainy day masks, being in a bookstore is one of the few experiences that hasn’t changed much for me. It’s still quiet, it’s still lonely in the best possible way. And books take care of you.”