Books and a Bed
Dec 01, 2019 02:18PM
It was a church in a former life, most recently the Avis Church of Christ, to be specific. It still looks like a church on the outside, and the resemblance is there inside as well, but its incarnation at this point, says owner Linda Roller, is as “the biggest best toy I could ever own.”
She might add that it is also the biggest best toy she could ever own and let others play with, because that’s really what it’s all about—this 100-plus-year-old building is part book store, part Airbnb, part home, all Linda, and is hers to share. And she does.
“At its heart, this is a traditional used and out-of-print book shop,” Linda says. “I buy and sell good and unusual books at many price points and in a variety of subject matter. There are some best sellers here [Lee Child’s Jack Reacher has shelf space], but this should be a deep dive. I want things of historical significance and for people to be able to come in and find something that speaks to them.”
Dive deep at Liberty Book Shop and you’ll find a 1945 first edition of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, with illustrations by Wesley Dennis, well-known for his artistic collaborations with author Marguerite Henry (dig out your old copy of Misty of Chincoteague and you’ll recognize Wesley Dennis right away). There’s The Practical Book of Chinaware, published in 1925; Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Alice Caldwell Hegan, published in 1901; and something titled the Poodle Clipping Book by someone who calls herself Miss Cameo. There is a large volume, dated 1869, that is a Congressional accounting/investigation of the treatment of Union prisoners in Confederate prison camps. There are a couple of Victorian-era editions of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book which plays large in another classic, Little Women, which I didn’t happen to see but which I bet is there.
There are thousands more. Linda estimates she has 45,000 titles here on the shelves, and more waiting in the wings.
“I do national searches,” she continues. “Sometimes I’m the middle person for a college or a think tank, but sometimes I’m the person who helps someone find that special book they once had and can’t find anymore.”
Ah, the life of a bibliophile.
In the late 1990s, Linda recalls, she was all set to take a trip—she describes it as a pilgrimage. But she got sick and her plans fell through. In 1998, “after the dust of that had settled,” she was at a friend’s house. The conversation wound around to “what do you want to do now?” Linda says the words came out almost unbidden. She wanted to have a church, with a parsonage, and she wanted it to be a book shop.
“This,” she says, matter-of-factly, gesturing around her, “was the pilgrimage,” and, a year and a half later, “I owned it.” The last church service here was November 7, 1999, the real estate closing was Christmas Eve, 1999, and she opened the following April. She had been living in Williamsport during this time, and had been selling books via the internet. Amazon did not exist then, and she says she “rode the first wave of internet book sales.” With the purchase of the former church in Avis—the building started its life in 1876 as the Woolrich Methodist Church and was moved to Avis in 1907; the parsonage was built on in 1925—she moved to Avis and began filling shelves, all the while continuing her internet sales business.
“Packing and shipping books was something I knew how to do,” she says.
And still does. She sends books all over the world, and, with the development two years ago of a section of the former parsonage (See—she got what she wanted!) into overnight lodging through Airbnb, she’s welcoming guests from all over the world as well.
“They’re here for all kinds of reasons,” Linda muses. They come for work, for conferences, to visit, and they come because of the bookshop. One couple spent their honeymoon here, immersed in not only each other but in 45,000 books.
All of which is not to say that this pilgrimage has been without challenges, a few of them structural.
“This has been quite an adventure,” says Linda. She recalls with a laugh that when she first bought the building, “a lot of people in town had a key to the church.” The rooms, except for the sanctuary, were all very small—none bigger than twelve by twelve, she says—so she “tore out a lot of walls.” As is often the case in old buildings, one construction project leads, by necessity and serendipity, to another. The creation of the Airbnb section was a direct result of having to fix the roof. Exposing rafters seemed an opportune time to add another floor of family living space, which left a portion of the parsonage available for those visitors from all over the world.
Still, Linda acknowledges, though there may be opportunities for other adventures and pilgrimages, “there are things I’m not going to get done, and that’s OK.” In the interim, the walk-in traffic at Liberty Book Shop is, in her words, “enough.”
“I’m here because of it, and I love my walk-in trade,” she says.
You can walk into the Liberty Book Shop Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and other times by appointment. Call (570) 753-5201, or visit thelibertybookshop.com. If you opt to stay through Airbnb, you get twenty-four-hour access to the book store and those thousands and thousands of books.