Destination: Finger Lakes Independent Bookstores

There is no place quite as mesmerizing as a bookstore – shelves and shelves of books on wide-ranging topics, with paperbacks and hardbacks wrapped in colorful pristine dust jackets. Best-selling books, longtime favorites, new releases, and bargain books make for an ever-changing selection.

The number of independent booksellers, or “indies” committed to selling new books was once much greater than it is today, but perhaps reports of their demise have been exaggerated. Just drop in at any of the one-of-a-kind establishments listed here. They boast large inventories of new titles, among other items. Immerse yourself in the books and be whisked away from your daily cares.

Longs’ Cards & Books
115 Main Street, Penn Yan

Monday through Wednesday – 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday – 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Friday – 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Saturday – 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In the spring of 2009, Longs’ Cards and Books will celebrate its 40th anniversary. What started in 1969 as a retirement business for Jim Long’s parents has become one of downtown Penn Yan’s anchors. Housed in an historic opera house, Longs’ carries a varied inventory. While the well-stocked aisles of greeting cards and office supplies serve a broad clientele, the shop attracts readers with an impressive offering of books for all ages. The selection of books by Finger Lakes authors is extensive and book signings for local writers are well attended.

“I was young and enthusiastic,” laughs Jim Long, the affable owner. Soon after his college graduation, he returned home and bought his parents’ business. In 1991 he moved just a few doors down into the opera house, when it was still bearing the scars from a serious fire. The acquisition tripled the Longs’ floor space to 4,500 square feet. The store has 16 employees.

By perusing the New York Times Best Sellers, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today, as well as local sources like this magazine, the Longs make sure they are stocking the hottest new titles. Jim Long stresses the importance of getting to know customers and what they read. Indies need an edge, he says, because of stiff competition from the Internet and large chain bookstores. But Long is just as passionate about keeping his hometown’s economy strong as he is about books. “We have to shop locally and support each other,” he stresses.

The Book Nook
508 Exchange Street, Geneva

Monday through Friday – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

If Hemingway is what you’re after, The Book Nook is the place to go. No, not Ernest Hemingway, the great American writer, but Hemingway the long gray-haired cat that lounges in the front window of this downtown Geneva store.

“My mother was a children’s librarian for 25 years,” says Mary Bakogiannis, owner of The Book Nook. They opened the business together five years ago before her mother passed away. “She was instrumental in the ordering,” explains the young woman.

Exposed brick walls with murals and lots of stuffed animals and puppets create a playful, cozy ambiance. Two overstuffed chairs are great for “curling up with a good book” while sipping a drink from The Coffee House, a few doors down on Exchange Street. The store stocks a number of children’s classics like Good Night Moon and If You Give a Moose a Muffin, as well as some edgier new titles including Walter the Farting Dog. For a young reader with 5 cents to spend, there is a large “Nickel Basket of Books.” It underscores the goal of encouraging reading, something that Mary and her husband Chuck feel very strongly about.

The store sells a large amount of used books, marked at half-price or less. Store manager Kelly MacDougal also has a knack for discovering hard-to-find books on the Internet. There is no additional charge for special orders and related postage.

Two years ago The Book Nook opened a teachers’ section at the back of the store, which includes a wide range of educational supplies. There are bulletin boards, charts, and resource books for teachers who used to have to travel to Rochester or Syracuse for these materials. Teachers receive a discount of 15 percent on everything in the store.

Bakogiannis hosts local-author book signings. Working with publishers of a local magazine called Geneva 13, the shop sponsored a poetry contest for students in first through eighth grades during National Poetry month in April. “Everyone got published,” smiled Mary Bakogiannis.

Creekside Books & Coffee
35 Fennell Street , Skaneateles

Bookstore hours:
Monday through Wednesday – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday – 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coffee shop hours:
Monday through Wednesday – 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday – 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bookstore and coffeehouse proprietor Erika Davis notes that a lot of people on vacation actually seek out independent booksellers. In fact, Creekside Books & Coffee, now in its fourth year in scenic Skaneateles, has become a tourist destination.

It fills a void left when the only local independent bookstore closed about eight years ago, says Davis, who grew up in Skaneateles and has a background in investment businesses and marketing.

Creekside specializes in quality fiction in trade book format, and stocks between 15,000 and 20,000 books. Other specialties include small chapter books for 4- to 8-year-olds and titles by Skaneateles resident Tim Green, an attorney and former NFL player for the Atlanta Falcons. Green is the New York Times bestselling author of 12 suspense novels, as well the non-fiction New York Times bestseller, The Dark Side of the Game. In addition, he writes a series of chapter books for young readers set in the world of professional football, published by Harper-Collins.

In February, Creekside opened a new women’s section in a porch area of the shop. Expect to find faith-based books and titles on personal growth, health and wellness, historical fiction and memoirs. “Women are my best customers,” explains Davis.

The coffeehouse side of the business is equipped with a coffee roaster, and seats 30 to 35 for light fare. (Customers are also allowed to take their drinks in the bookstore.) It hosts numerous book-related events, and features live music on the weekends. Davis says the combination bookstore and coffeehouse provides a much-needed gathering place in the community. There are 20 employees.

“We’re local and entrenched in the community,” affirms Davis. “It’s a great space for browsing and lingering.”

Explore! The Book Store
18 East Main Street, Clifton Springs

Tentative hours:
Monday through Saturday – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Be among the first to explore one of the area’s newest independent bookstores opening in August. “It’s been calling me,” laughs Anne Mancilla, a recently retired schoolteacher. Mancilla can recall growing up in the village of Clifton Springs and buying the Sunday newspaper at Devereaux’s Book Store on Main Street. Eventually the business closed, and over the years the space housed a series of retail establishments. However, “The Book Store,” spelled in black and white tiles on the storefront’s threshold, remained legible and enticed the book lover to dream of a new venture.

“My little village is coming back; it has so much to offer,” says Mancilla. Besides selling books of regional interest, she plans to devote one wall to showcase artwork by area artists.

The new bookstore is located under a covered walkway linking a variety of small street-level businesses in what is called the Foster Block. Inside the store, the original tin ceiling and exposed brick walls are part of the charm of the historic location.

Mancilla herself is an avid reader, known to have as many as four or five books going at a time. To stock a “healthy supply of new books” at the store, she has been studying the weekly lists of fiction and nonfiction titles from trade papers and bestseller lists. Used books will also be available, but there are no plans to sell rare titles.

During her 17 years as a social studies and reading teacher for fifth and sixth grades, Mancilla enjoyed getting children into the “reading zone” and she will stock a lot of books to appeal to young readers. The educator-turned-entrepreneur even has plans to hold story hours to attract nearby day care centers.

To find an independent bookstore near you, or to visit one while on vacation, go to, the website for the American Booksellers Association, a national trade association for independent booksellers. Limit your search by state and zip code.

Here is a sampling of other bookstores in the Finger Lakes

The Book Den, Ltd.
174 Main St, Dansville

Bookery II
215 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca
DeWitt Mall

Cornerstone Book Store
3 East Street, Nunda

Lift Bridge Book Shop
45 Main Street, Brockport

My Sisters’ Words
304 N McBride St, Syracuse

Syracuse University Bookstores
303 University Pl., Syracuse

by Laurel C. Wemett
Laurel C. Wemett lives in Canandaigua where she owns a gift shop, Cats in the Kitchen. She is a correspondent for the Messenger Post Newspapers and a frequent contributor to Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

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