Betsy's Musings

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Layers of Memories Unearthed as Bookseller Plans 172nd Anniversary

By Betsy Rider

A recently discovered box of my father’s writings includes a bunch of diaries from 1918 or 1919 (He never used a blank diary until it was outdated and no longer able to be sold).  He writes of his job in Philadelphia at the George W. Jacobs Bookstore.  And he writes about the beautiful girl who worked there one Christmas—a girl who would later be my mother.  He writes about the letters he got from H.Y.Otto, his former employer at the bookstore in Williamsport.  He writes how H.Y. begged him to come back to manage the store and how H.Y.’s wife pushed her husband to offer my Dad more money than he was making in Philadelphia.  

In 1924, my Dad came back as manager of The H.Y.Otto Book Store.  He was hopeful that the higher wage would put him in a position to ask that beautiful girl to be his wife.  His diaries from that time were full of visits he made to Merchantville, NJ, to woo his first and only love.  In 1927 she came to town as his wife and lived on the second floor in the house where I live today.  His mother and sister lived on the first floor.

There are metal shelves in our store now that date back at least that far.  Those shelves survived the 1936 flood and a later fire.  (You can still see the scars of the fire that affected only one section of the store.)  After my father died in 1959, my mother managed the bookstore and one of the first things she did was get rid of the strong oak tables that held only one layer of books.  She got a customer to make plywood tables that had another shelf below the level of the table top and she disposed of the slanting plywood boards that held our greeting cards.  We had multi shelved card racks that rested on solid bases with sliding doors.  (We still   have the bases under our main island of sale books.)

When my mother retired and my husband left his job as librarian at the Lewisburg Federal Prison to manage “the store,” I got back into the support staff, doing the bookkeeping, advertising and event planning (all from home as I raised my ten children).  Then the memories multiplied as they were supported with numerous photos.

Our youngest son was going to be our angel in one of the parades, so I let his hair grow, pulled it up to the top of his head with a bow and put a white dress and angel wings on him.  He rode in a wagon my husband had outfitted with a frame he could hold on to and he carried a little book, like the angel in our logo.  Then we dumped a huge bag of candy into the wagon and our other kids (dressed in storybook costumes) were to take out handfuls of candy and give them to the kids along the way.  But every time they reached for the candy our faux angel bopped them on the head with the book!  That, he thought, was all his candy!

A later summer, we dressed the kids in storybook costumes and sent them out on to the Pine Street Mall with invitations to downtown shoppers to come to our anniversary party.  Each child’s pack of invitations was in rhyme using the storybook character as a theme.  Still later, our kids got into the act as creators and emcees of a week-long promotion on the Mall which they called “Music Versus Money,” an anything-goes kind of competition between the staff of the local radio stations and personnel from the downtown banks.  What a memory!

When we moved from 25 West 4th to our present location, we did it without trucks, without hired help, without money.  We borrowed merchandise carts from Penney’s and several other downtown businesses and wheeled all the fixtures and books up the block without ever packing up the books.  We had a detailed map of the old store and the new with designations where each shelf of books was to come from and where it was to go.  We had invited our grown kids and willing customers to help us move everything.  (We “paid” our customers with gift certificates.)   I had broken down the entire move into ten chore sheets and given them to each “team” of four. Then we brought up the shelves, put them where the map and the masking tape on the floor indicated, loaded them with the books and, twenty eight hours later, opened for business.  We hadn’t missed an hour of sales time!

It’s been a pleasure sharing these memories with you and I hope you can all come November 22nd from five to nine to help us celebrate our 172nd anniversary.  I’ll bring some photos and some old ads, etc.