Friday, December 11, 2009

Used and Rare Book Shop Anchors Downtown Trenton Revival

Eric Maywar of Classic Book Shop in downtown Trenton, NJ.

Reversing the trend of book shop closings in general and in downtown urban districts in particular that Book Patrol has been following, the Classic Book Shop, on Warren Street in downtown Trenton, NJ, is playing an important role in the area’s renaissance.

Classic owner, Eric Maywar, who owned another book shop in a nearby town, was approached by the Trenton Downtown Association with the idea.

It was something of a leap of faith to make the move. When he arrived four years ago there were still buildings across the street that were not only vacant, “they had no back walls — the pigeons lived there.” Yet a “boomlet” has since occurred in the area which, with an old-fashioned shoemaker’s emporium and traditional barber shop offering straight razor shaves, appears to be driven by a yearning for the authenticity associated with the values of vintage craft and trade. In short, a desire for the classic.

The book shop, which offers a little bit of everything, has become a hub of activity. Poetry readings, knitting groups, young adult and kids’ book clubs, and cookie bake-offs, are part of the mix that has made the shop a beacon to residents.

Scrabble Night every Friday from 6:30 p.m. til midnight attracts players from as far away as Manhattan. “Everyone is welcome,” said Maywar, noting that the 15 to 25 people who show up each week represent all different levels of playing ability.

Maywar had to close his other used and rare book shop due to flood damage yet “business in Trenton is much better than in New Hope,” he commented as the delivery man from a new sushi shop on the block ran in to drop-off his lunch. “New Hope was great in the summertime, but then there was nothing for nine months. Here we have residents and state workers coming in on a regular basis.”

There’s a constant stream of people in and out of the store, no doubt due to his eclectic mix of merchandise. Although he carries some pieces of furniture and fashion accessories like purses and boa scarves on consignment, books still rule at the shop. Laughs help.

Mr. Maywar brings a wicked sense of humor to bear. “Parenting” and “Horror” books, for example, are shelved next to one another. Or, they used to be.

“I had my own kids,” he laughed, “and I figured they should be separated.” It is not clear whether it was the genres or his children that he was referring to.

For all its success as a downtown mecca, the shop, Mr. Maywar notes, “doesn’t pay the mortgage.” Thus his second job - ironically, with the Trenton Downtown Association.

Still, the store’s role as a neighborhood catalyst rather than a hugely profitable business remains an important factor in its survival. The shop has a “free books” program that Maywar instituted for Trenton youngsters. Believing that children do better in homes that have books, he collects cash donations that make it possible for local kids to come in and simply take whatever books they’d like to read.

Is there a prize of some sort out there for this man?

It’s unfortunate that a book shop that has become a key to a downtown district’s revival cannot earn enough money for its owner to pay the bills and have some money left in his pockets. Further, that books, in and of themselves, are not strong enough to assure a used and rare book shop’s ongoing viability.

Perhaps a Bowling Night would help.

Full story in Town Topics

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