Reading in Reading
Whitelam Books creates an atmosphere that invites you to sit down and stay awhile.
Photos by Robert Boyd
The small independent bookstore seems like an anachronism in the modern age. In a world of online shopping, tablets, and e-books, what purpose does the brick-and-mortar bookstore serve? It is still a place where one can browse, read, and purchase books, obviously. But according to Liz Whitelam, owner of Whitelam Books in Reading, it is so much more than that. The bookstore is a place to discuss books with others, both new releases and timeworn classics. It is a place to meet an author and listen to her read an excerpt from her latest novel. It is a place to sit, relax, and leaf through selections to find that perfect “next book.” It is all these things to Whitelam, and yet much more.
Whitelam Books, located in downtown Reading, is still in its infancy, having opened in November of 2017. In a recently revitalized and still developing downtown area, Liz recognized the opportunity to contribute to this ongoing transformation and bring in what she considered a “missing piece.” Her vision for the true role of the bookstore is that of a community space—a gathering place for the whole community.
The bookstore itself is small yet comfortable. The idea for the design was to create a place that invites you to sit down and stay, not just shop and go. In her research, Liz discovered that there was no local toy store. So, in addition to a dedicated area for children’s books, there are toys and games available. Chairs set up throughout the store are arranged around a fireplace. Movable shelves allow them to be easily rearranged to create an area for the shop’s events.
These events range from the usual suspects—illustrators and artists—to the less obvious, such as grief counselors, Disney travel agents, or a handler with her therapy dog. And along with open book club meetings run by the staff of the store and children’s story times, they create an atmosphere of something more than just a bookstore.
Additional ways in which the store engages with the community is by partnering with the Reading Art Association to display rotating art pieces in the store. Another partnership is with local schools. A quick search of the website reveals links to the summer reading lists for many local communities. Less readily apparent is the store’s work with the Reading High School AP art class; its art projects are often displayed in the shop’s windows. These mutually beneficial partnerships further the goal of making the bookstore a place for all.
The last aspect, though certainly not the least, that makes the store so unique is the employees. Much to her surprise, Liz ended up with a much larger staff than anticipated because (in her own words) “so many fabulous and enthusiastic people wanted to work in the bookstore.” The staff has a bigger role than just selling books: They engage with the customers. The idea is that staff and customers will discuss books as well as events they have enjoyed or would like to see in the future. In this manner, the staff and customers, the visitors, and the whole community can and will help shape what Whitelam Books will become over time.