December 3, 2016
The Narberth Bookshop is worth a quick trip outside the city
If you love books, you’ve gotta head to Narberth.
It’s easy to get lost inside the small space at 221 Haverford Ave. in this bustling Main Line town three Regional Rail stops outside Center City.
Open since October 25, the Narberth Bookshop offers a highly curated mix of genres, with buzzy titles sharing shelf space with deeper reads and stalwarts in science fiction and current events. The beguiling selection even has a robust Philadelphia section.
Somebody clearly put a lot of thought into this.
That someone is Ellen Trachtenberg, a 26-year veteran in the book publishing industry who decided years ago to open her own place. A longtime resident of the borough who now resides nearby in Bryn Mawr, Trachtenberg is proud of and optimistic about her new venture.
“My idea of a good time is sitting and picking the books for the store,” she told Billy Penn. “I want it to be really forward-thinking in terms of selection and style.”
Trachtenberg worked mostly in marketing and publicity for authors — children’s authors, scholars, everything. She also spent a good chunk of the 1990s working in the Greenwich Village bookstore Three Lives & Company, which proved an inspiration.
“It formed my ideas for what a good bookstore is, how it acts, what it does,” she said. “That’s really where I learned how to fill a small bookstore with only books that are recommendable, with no filler.”
Talk of Trachtenberg’s background was really just a warm-up for the big question: Why, in the age of Amazon and the death of print, would anyone want to open a small bookstore?
“No bookstore’s going to compete with Amazon. We don’t pretend to. We’re trying to evoke this memory — sensory memory maybe — of what it feels like to be a bookstore where people love books,” Trachtenberg said. And while she hates the word “millennials,” Trachtenberg said they’re on her mind.
“They’re comparing an apothecary to a CVS. A small candy store to a big supermarket. That’s the kind of thing I was aware of when I wanted to open the store,” she said, citing Narberth’s location as the other deciding factor.
“It’s a very close-knit community where people walk, they bike, there’s a train. It has all these qualities of a town."
In terms of business, so far, so good, Trachtenberg said. People are buying Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Notebook, as well as Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and the graphic novel version of The March, written by John Lewis. But business is also being boosted by the holiday season; January is when things in retail traditionally slow down. How will the Narberth Bookshop evolve?
Through readings and events, countered Trachtenberg.
“Hillbilly Elegy has been selling a lot of copies. We’re going to do a speaker event with that in January on that topic of the disaffected Americans,” she said, revealing a plan to have at least one event per week, most likely Wednesday or Thursday nights.
All of this, she says, presages her big plan — in a few years, to return with her family and live in Narberth again.
“My intention is to move back and be that old lady walking back and forth to her bookstore,” she said with a laugh.