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Local Business Focus - Cherry Valley Bookstore

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 7/3/24 | 7/3/24

By David Avitabile

CHERRY VALLEY - The Cherry Valley Bookstore is much more than your normal, everyday neighborhood bookstore.

While you browse through thousands of books from dozens of subjects in the shop, you can feel the history of not only Cherry Valley. the state and the country.

The building at 81 Alden Street in the village was built in 1840 and was home to Amos Swan and his cabinet shop. He also made melodeons here. Sam Morse, then an itinerant artist/painter may have perfected the telegraph key and Morse code in the very room you are looking through a vintage children's book. (It is not certain whether Mr. Morse perfected his code in the front room of the book store or next door, but "I'll claim it," Mr. Compton said.  The building has been home to many businesses before it became a bookstore around 1995, said current owner Bill Compton.

Before Mr. Compton and his wife Lynne purchased the building and business five years ago, Franzen Clough owned the building since 1992 and ran it as a bookstore since 1995. From 1971 to 1991 it was home to Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Paul Bley and Carol Goff. They bought the building, site unseen, through an ad in the Village Voice, and lived in the small two-story wooden building for 20 years, the only time it has been used as a residence, Mr. Compton said. In its other uses, the building has housed a butcher shop ("That might explain the hook in the front window," Mr. Compton said.), a women's dress shop. a bakery, and a tea room. Mr. Swan was also the village undertaker. "He'd make the last cabinet you'd ever buy," Mr. Compton joked.

Mr. Compton's daughter first spotted a story about the bookstore and Cherry Valley on the Internet in December 2018 and informed her parents. Mr. Compton, who had just retired as a city planner in Bristol, Rhode Island, drove to Cherry Valley on a frigid January day and peeked through the windows of the shop. They returned a few weeks later and the power and heat were off, but they decided to pursue a purchase and bought it that spring.

Since then, they have put on a new roof, repaired the siding (No mice this winter," Mr. Compton noted.), painted the front and side (it has been red since the mid-1950s and is now a bright, fresh, welcoming yellow), and on the inside, moved a large book case to showcase the fire place in the front room.

There are basically four rooms to the book store, the front  room, the hallway, the back room, and the upstairs, which houses the shop's fiction collection, two comfortable reading chairs, and some magazines.

For such a small shop, there is an amazing assortment of books and subjects. "If you want it, we have it," Mr. Compton said, though he did have to recently get someone a book on blacksmithing.

In the front room there are vintage children's books, and sections on New and Local history, do-it-yourself and how-to (a very popular area for Glimmerglass opera apprentices working on sets), cookbooks, natural history and science, art and architecture, sewing, knitting, fine arts, photography, as well as Allen Ginsberg-related books. Mr. Compton is amazed at the art and creativity that has happened in Cherry Valley. In other areas of the shop there are biographies, African-American studies, books on1960s, '70s. and '80 pop, New Age, history, religion, literature, travel, Eastern religions, mythology, military history, poetry, drama, music, and many more. 

Some of the most popular sections of the book store are local history and vintage children's books. "People love local history and it's hard to find." He said he would like to expand the children's section.

Some people come in and directly ask for a section to explore, others just wonder, Mr. Compton said.

"It's not unusual for someone to disappear for an hour, hour and a half and come back with a stack of books."

Most of his books are in the $6 to $8 range, though he does have some rare and older books at higher prices. 

Owning and running a book store is nothing like he has ever done.

"It's been a huge learning curve," he said. "Running a book store is a totally different thing."

He began to inventory the collection, but gave up. He estimates that there are between 12,000 and 15,000 books in the shop, "definitely more than 10,000."

More are added each winter after they get back from Florida and from library books sales and estates sale. They also get donations, but they have to be very selective because of space limitations. "Not to denigrate any writer, but we don't have any Danielle Steel (books)."

In addition to the physical shop, the shop finds buyers through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

The book store community is very tight, Mr. Compton said, as is the Cherry Valley community.

The community, he added, "is very happy that we are caretakers of a local institution."

The Cherry Valley Bookstore is closed January to April. It is open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11am to 6pm and on Sunday from 1 to 6pm.

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