We rode over to Plattsburgh, NY last summer, and while there we stopped in to the Corner Stone Bookstore, probably my favorite place to buy books. Opened in 1975, this second-hand bookstore has been a community staple in this tiny downtown for decades.
I lived here years ago, and would spend hours poking through its 70,000 to 80,000 titles displayed on two floors plus the basement, densely-packed floor to ceiling with books. I enjoyed the basement shelves the most. There were so many of them, and any time I was down there I was usually the only shopper in the basement, so it felt like mine exclusively. Without windows or outside noise, time stood still as I browsed. Books on shelves, books in boxes, books stacked on the floor, little mini rooms in the back of the basement also filled with books.
I’d flip open the front cover of one, see a name written in the cover and wonder if this original owner is even alive anymore, then wonder how many other eyes have been captivated by these pages over the decades since it was printed. Now I’m part of that list of names, too. This is something I love about collecting old records and old cameras too, these are all items that were treasured, often by multiple owners, and all these items have stories that I’m now a part of. I don’t get that feeling with my cell phone camera, or my Kindle or an MP3 file.
The fact that this store is still even operating is nothing short of a miracle. In the late 80s business started leaving downtown Plattsburgh for the malls, strip malls and big boxes a couple miles uptown, close to the interstate where Quebecois tourists would come to do their shopping (even with the exchange rate for the Canadian dollar, prices were cheaper on this side of the border). Then the air force base closed, and one third of Plattsburgh’s population disappeared overnight. Downtown was now little more than a collection of seedy bars and run-down apartments. No one came here to shop and, as the new millennium came, no one was buying books anymore. All the bookstores in those malls eventually closed their doors but the Corner Stone stayed open… all without the benefit of a snooty cafe or an Oprah endorsement.
I bought a couple books, including an oversized book of Vermeer paintings for something like 12 bucks, friended them on social media and promised to come back. Fast forward to July 4th this year, and we’re back again. The shop was super busy with holiday foot traffic, and we left with five more books – a collection of Lewis Carroll stories, a Nancy Drew book, an old Cub Scout manual for no real reason, a book about Vermont vineyards and breweries, and… something about a cat. I walk in saying “I probably won’t buy anything but it won’t hurt to browse” and I leave with books that I didn’t expect to need. So this was an ill-advised visit, considering I’m downsizing for an upcoming move. No regrets.