You might have stopped at the W.K. Stewart Bookstore at 550 S. Fourth St. in Louisville at lunch or after school. I slumped down between the stacks in 1970 and read Love Story by Erich Segal.
Years ago, I didn’t think anything about independent bookstores like W.K. Stewart because all bookstores fell into that category. Not until the last decade or so have we witnessed their demise — being replaced by Amazon, Nooks, and the big-box retail stores.
I have visited well-known bookstores like Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France, often frequented by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., a sprawling, jam packed repository of used and new books. Recently, while in Nashville, I made a side trip to Parnassus Books, started by best-selling author Ann Patchett after two larger stores closed. Patchett said, “When a city loses a bookstore, it creates a tremendous void.” It was well worth my time in rush hour traffic to see what she’s done for the Hillsboro Road neighborhood.
In Kentucky, we’re blessed with so many wonderful, warm, inviting independent bookstores: Coffee Tree Books in Morehead, Poor Richard’s Books in Frankfort, Carmichael’s and A Reader’s Corner in Louisville, Morris Bookshop, The Wild Fig, and Joseph-Beth in Lexington, to name just a few.
And, one more — Michael Courtney’s Black Swan Books on Maxwell St. in Lexington.
At Black Swan Books, new, used and rare books are everywhere. If you have to step over a stack of historical tomes on the floor or meander around a box sealed and ready for shipment to Courtney’s many international customers, that’s OK. You still feel comfortable surrounded by some of your favorite books of all time. It’s like your own personal library.
The New York Times wrote about Black Swan this week. Julie June Stewart’s piece pays tribute to Courtney, and, in a way, celebrates independent bookstores all over the world. It’s well worth the read.