Bookstore Review: Steeple People

20170327_140732Steeple People Bookstore may possibly be the best kept bookstore secret in Columbus, or even Bexley, where it is located. We discovered it when we were planning a trip to visit Gramercy Books, and checking out what other interesting businesses we could find on East Main Street in Bexley.  As a result, our visit to Bexley turned into a mini-bookstore crawl!

One of the reasons Steeple People may not be very well known is that it serves the students of Trinity Lutheran Seminary as the source for textbooks for their classes, being housed in the lower level of the main classroom building for the seminary. But it is also a supplier of church supplies ranging from communion supplies to clergy clothing to worship materials and educational materials, particularly for more traditional denominational congregations and especially Episcopal and Lutheran congregations, based on merchandise advertised on their website. What I found unusual for a church-related store was the modest and tasteful selection of gift items, which seem to dominate many religious bookstores. Kind of refreshing, I would say.

I probably represented that unusual customer who came into the store neither for church supplies or class books but for the other thing they advertise, which are theological books. And, as advertised, I found a fairly interesting selection of books reflecting a mainline Protestant perspective. I did find a fair number of books by two of my favorite authors, Walter Bruggemann and N. T. Wright. Also, given that this is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the Ninety Five Theses, there were quite a few books on Luther and the Reformation. But one may also find devotional and spiritual formation texts, books on counselling, stewardship, leadership, biblical studies and theology. All these are displayed in a well-lit store with many books featured cover out, rather than tightly crammed on shelves.

We found a cart with “half off” books just outside the doorway as well as a sale table in the store itself. There is a separate area off the main store area where classroom books are shelved. When we visited, this area had very little in it, as spring term texts had been returned and summer texts were not yet in–typical of any college bookstore.

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A central seating area and a nearby coffee bar invite people to sit and browse book selections or relax and talk with friends. It could make a nice spot for a small book club as well. The store doesn’t arrange its own events but supports seminary speaker appearances by selling books of visiting authors and hosting book-signings after they speak.

If you are visiting Steeple People, you can either find nearby street parking or park in one of the “Visitor” spaces in the lot off College Avenue behind the seminary building. You come in via the lower level back entrance, veer slightly to the left and walk down a hallway toward the front of the building. The store is at the end of the hall.

Store hours as listed on Google are:

Monday – Friday   9 am to 5 pm

Saturday                 9 am to 1 pm

Sunday                    Closed

Phone 614-236-4237

Email: store@steeplepeoplebookstore.com

Website: http://www.steeplepeoplebookstore.com

Bookstore Review: Gramercy Books

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Gramercy Books Entrance

On December 13, 2016, Publishers Weekly posted an article that caught my attention: Gramercy Books Opens in Columbus. That is big news. No retail independent bookstore has opened in Columbus in at least a dozen years. The store was the idea of co-owner and author Linda Kass (author of Tasa’s Song), who was inspired by a visit to Sundog Books, in the Florida panhandle, nearly 20 years ago. Store manager Debra Boggs told me that in preparation to launch the store, Linda visited a number of the best independent stores in the country including fellow author Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tennessee. Then she teamed up with co-owner and general manager John Gaylord, a long-time bookseller who operated a number of Little Professor Stores, and store manager Debra in opening the store in early December 2016 (grand opening was January 27-29, 2017).

We visited Gramercy Books this week for the first time. Gramercy Books is located on the northwest corner of East Main Street and Cassidy in the newly re-developing shopping corridor in downtown Bexley, across the street from the Bexley Public Library. It is on the first floor of a condo building developed by her husband, developer Frank Kass. Connected to the store is a delightful little café and bakery, Kittie’s Café, owned by the folks who run Kittie’s Bakery in German Village. They feature Stumptown Coffee and delicious baked goods (coffee, baked goods, and books, what is not to like?). There is parking on the street as well as behind the building off of Cassidy.

The main entrance is off of East Main Street and everything spells “inviting” — the black lettered “Gramercy Books” against the light gray stone, below which is a black awning with white pin stripes and the doorway itself with “Find adventure here” stenciled on the window beside the doorway. One steps into a bright, well-lit and thoughtfully laid out store. In front as you enter, you find featured titles and best-sellers. To the right are periodicals and beyond that to the right, behind Kittie’s, is the area for children’s and youth books.

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Children’s and Young Readers Area

Behind the sales counter, you will find an ample selection of Young Adult fiction. In the back left corner of the store, on the back and left walls are the fiction and literature sections. As one looks about the store, one’s eye is drawn here. I found a collection of Langston Hughes poetry in this ample section. Books in a number of non-fiction subject areas may be found in aisles of shelves arranged on either side of the sales counter. This includes books on Ohio and Ohio authors, an ample selection of history and biography, political science, social science and psychology and self-help books, business, sports, spirituality, and arts sections. The front corner to the right of the entrance has a collection of books on cooking. There were kiosks in different parts of the store featuring favorite books of Linda Kass, and the store manager, Debra Boggs.

What impressed me was the wide variety of interesting books from popular best-sellers to serious and thoughtful fiction and non-fiction writing. The team at Gramercy describes it as a “curated bookstore.” Recommendations by different booksellers may be found throughout the store, and it was clear from talking with Debra Boggs that much thought is given to the tastes of their customers as well as the recommendations of trade publications. The feel is much more personal than a large chain store, which can seem overwhelming. Some stores like this have felt “thin” in terms of selection. That was not the case for me–I found much of interest all over the store that I’ve not read.

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Sales Counter looking toward the Fiction and Literature Area

In addition to a customer-centered approach to business and an atmosphere that invites you to come and stay and find a few new treasures, the store hosts a number of events to draw people from near and far into the store. They host author nights for a number of local authors, poetry nights (which I understand are their biggest draw), a book club (discussing J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy on April 25) and even songwriter spotlights. A big upcoming event, co-sponsored with Bexley Public Library (get tickets through the library’s website via Eventbrite), is a book-signing and meet the author night with The Underground Railroad author Colson Whitehead on April 28.

The store may not offer the discounts you will find at the big chains or online but it offers a knowledgeable and friendly staff, free gift-wrapping, special order service, gift cards, ten percent discounts to book clubs, and a Free Rewards program, offering a $5 gift certificate for every twelve books you purchase, plus a free monthly e-newsletter. They seem dedicated to the kind of service that fosters repeat business.

This is a wonderful addition not only to the mix of businesses on East Main Street near the Capital University campus, but also on the bookselling scene in Columbus. It is neither a secondhand store nor a chain. It is an inviting place that conveys to the reader the message, “we were thinking of you and thought you might enjoy reading this…or this.”  It is a gem that I hope the Bexley community and the broader book-buying public in central Ohio will support. If so, I know that Linda, John, Debra and the rest of the staff will say a “big thanks” (the meaning behind the word “Gramercy”).

Store Hours:

Monday to Friday 10am – 9pm
Saturday 9am – 9pm
Sunday 9am – 5pm

Contact:

614.867.5515
info@gramercybooksbexley.com

Website: http://www.gramercybooksbexley.com/

Address:

2424 E. Main Street
Bexley, OH 43209