Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Visual Tour of The Midtown Scholar

Have you ever been to Harrisburg?  A little more than an hour away from Philadelphia, and right next to Amish land of Lancaster/chocolate mecca of Hershey, the capital of Pennsylvania is a strange place.
Image from Sperling's Best Places
It's surrounded by farmland.  It's the seat of powerful, government action.  There is tremendous wealth here, but also extreme poverty.  There is a strong vein of conservatism among many of the residents, but Harrisburg also hosts a burgeoning arts and cultural scene that promotes and celebrates diversity, inclusiveness, and empathy.  One actor in this progressive trend is Midtown Scholar Bookstore.

While they have an active, but slightly clunky, website with tons and tons of books that ship anywhere, the true experience requires setting foot into their physical bookstore.  1302 North 3rd Street used to be a department store and a theater, but I can't imagine it being anything other than this book lover's utopia.  There are so many nooks and crannies, hidden spaces and curated areas that you could easily spend all day here.  Since they serve food and drinks, you literally could!  Here's a pictorial tour of the Midtown Scholar, showing off some of my favorite areas.

When you first walk through the door, you'll find tables of small press books, new releases, and books for visiting authors.  In the past year, Midtown Scholar has definitely upped their book tour game, with local and national authors stopping by a few times every month.

On one side, you'll find the cash register and the cafe.  I don't know about you, but if there is coffee to be had while book shopping, I will have it.  Thinking about coffee and books must engage similar synapses in my brain.

The other side of the room is shelving of curated collections, graphic novels, and social awareness books.  So far, these books have all been new, but the rest of Midtown Scholar is made up of high quality used books.  Just beyond that area is the amazing Famous Authors section.  There are SO MANY shelves full of books by/about well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, Geoffrey Chaucer, Zora Neale Hurston, and Evelyn Waugh, among hundreds of others.  If you're looking for Classics of the Western Cannon, this is the place to check out.

In between two of the Famous Author shelves is a doorway into the Children's book section and the cookbook/food writing books.

At the back of the main floor is a set of stairs up to the Art Books section, which has massively tall shelves replete with a library ladder.  I've wanted so badly to jump on the ladder and coast around the stacks, but haven't gotten up the courage yet.  Afraid of making a fool of myself?  Definitely.

Leaving the art section, there's a walkway around the upstairs side, with shelves that sometimes hold fiction or other in-transition sections of books during re-shelving.  Continuing along the walkway, you run into the Quiet Area section, where screens are not allowed.  Ex-library pews await, arranged for your peaceful, reverent, reading pleasure.

On the other side of the sitting area live the music/dance/film/drama/poetry areas.  From the edge, you can peer down and spy on what the other shoppers are browsing.  A perfect people-watching spot!

At the end of this area (which is the beginning of the poetry section), walk down the steps to find yourself at the back of the cafe area.  Keep going toward the Art section but instead take the steps down.  Here's where the main non-fiction section of Midtown Scholar lives.  Right in front of you is the Local Interest shelf, with books about the Harrisburg area, small-press books from local authors, and other interesting things.  Beyond, there are so many sections, broken down into even smaller subsections, that it behooves you to just wander up and down the rows.

Continue down the next set of steps, to even more non-fiction goodness.  On the floor, you'll notice stickers directing you toward Robertson's Rare Books room.  Follow those stickers, to find a beautiful room stocked with Ex Libris bookplates, antique books, prints, and other fascinating objects.

Around the corner of the Robertson's area live the antiquarian books, with older titles in great condition mixed with very, very old books in the most interesting bindings.

Just when you're sure that you have entered another time zone, you'll find the very last section of Midtown Scholar.  There are small rooms for exercise, humor, social studies, and travel.  Before my first trip to The Netherlands, I unexpectedly found a book here called My 'Dam Life by Sean Condon.  Serendipity certainly abounds at the Midtown Scholar.

Now, all you have to to is retrace your steps to head back upstairs and to the cash register, to purchase that mountain of books you've gathered during your excavation adventure!

If you ever find yourself in southern Pennsylvania, do plan to stop by and have a browse!  You'll thank me.

Librorum annis,