by Sue Ann Rybak
When Greg Williams, proprietor of Walk A Crooked Mile Books, 7423 Devon St., announced in January he was closing the bookstore after SEPTA – which owns the Mt. Airy train station ordered the bookstore to cease and desist hosting concerts and yard sales outside the bookstore, he never thought people would be interested in buying it.
“You hear of bookstores closing all the time,” Williams said. “But, you never hear of someone buying a used-book store.”
Jake Sudderth, 44, a Seattle native who moved to Mt. Airy two and a half years ago, said he always dreamed about owning his own bookstore.
“Walk A Crooked Mile Books is not an ordinary bookstore,” said Sudderth, who has experience working with publishers and distributors of books “It’s a fixture in the community.”
In 2010 it was featured on CNN’s website as one of the six least-known Philadelphia treasures, along with the Morris Arboretum and the Rodin Museum.
Dennis Brunn, of Mt. Airy, said Walk a Crooked Mile Books at the Mt. Airy SEPTA railroad station has been a vital center of the surrounding neighborhood for more than 18 years.
“Greg Williams and Cynthia have been much more than booksellers – they have used their daily warm welcome, their flea markets and free concerts and their love of books to bring our diverse neighborhood together. They’ve been like the neighborhood ‘general store’ where we could catch up with each other, share what’s happening, and create solutions to community problems.”
Tony Coulter, of Havertown, and his 17-year-old daughter Bridget are longtime patrons of Walk a Crooked Mile Books.
“It’s a shame to see another rip in the fabric of community life,” Coulter said. “Everything is becoming more commercialized. There are very few bookstores left in this increasingly digitalized world.
You didn’t mind coming here and blowing off a little dust. You never knew what treasure you would find here.”
Bridget Coulter, who said she grew up coming to Walk a Crooked Mile Books, added that she prefers reading print books to reading on the Kindle.
“If I don’t finish a book on the Kindle, it just disappears into a black hole,” Bridget said. “If I stop reading a good paperback book, it will sit there and haunt me until I finish it.”
She said one the things that made Walk a Crooked Mile Books unique was its huge selection.
“I knew I could come here and get books I needed to read for school, like “Hamlet” or “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare,” she said. “It’s sad I am going to miss coming here. It’s the only bookstore I know where the Comedy and Health sections are in the bathroom.”
Sudderth had hoped to run the used-book store under its new name Mt. Airy Read & Eat at the Mt. Airy Train Station, but, after much discussion with SEPTA, the decision was made to open the business at the site of the former Video Library, 7141 Germantown Ave. Sudderth added that SEPTA plans to put the site up for competitive bidding to find a new tenant.
Brunn, who lives near the Mt. Airy train station, said while he is happy that Mt. Airy will continue to have an independent community bookstore under a new owner and name at the old Video Library, the neighborhood is “extremely disappointed with SEPTA for not making it possible for the new owner to rent in a timely fashion the space at the Mt. Airy Station.”
He said SEPTA’s decision will leave the Frank Furness-designed building that was built in 1882 vacant for several months.
Sudderth hopes the bookstore’s new location draws more foot traffic. Another benefit of the new location is the added space.
“Not only will there be more space for books, but we will have open-seating area where people can enjoy coffee and pastries while reading,” Sudderth said.
He hopes the bookstore will continue to be a social gathering place for the community.
“The only way I think a bookstore remains energetic is to make sure there is something going on to encourage people to come in and look around,” he said. “An ideal situation would be to have 100 events a year – book readings, concerts, book clubs, lectures and other community events.”
While the bookstore is not officially open, it recently started holding concerts on Saturday nights at its new location. On July 12, Jake Michael and Richard Redding performed for more than a dozen people.
Mt. Airy Read & Eat will hold its soft opening on July 16.
But, Williams is not out of the book business completely. He will continue to sell books online under Walk a Crooked Mile Books. He is looking forward to traveling and spending more time with his granddaughter Talula James, who he hopes will be a fellow bookie.
When asked about the future of books, Sudderth said, “Books are real heirlooms. I hope it’s one of those mediums that never go away. I never thought vinyl records would be sold again. So, that gives me hope that maybe there is a place for the book in the future.”
A video of Mt. Airy Read & Eat can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hEkYCGx5Qs&feature=em-share_video_user