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Commonplace Reader fills uncommon niche in Yardley


The thing I love about writing this column is that I learn something every time I hear a person’s story. This week when I set out to write about Elizabeth Young, owner and operator of Commonplace Reader, the independent bookstore on Main Street in Yardley, I had to find out the meaning in this context of “commonplace.” I knew it could not possibly be suggesting the store was typical, because it’s not. The old house that is now the bookstore could not be more distinctive with welcoming nooks and crannies everywhere, and more personality than any romantic could hope for.

I found out a commonplace notebook is like a journal, but not a journal. Instead of writing down your thoughts, you write down other people’s thoughts, lines from books and songs and poems, quotations from famous people or unfamous people you overheard on the subway, or passages from any number of other sources that resonate with you. Writer Charles Locke calls it “a personal intellectual database.”

Turns out, I’ve been keeping a commonplace notebook ever since I was gleaning pearls of wisdom from Nancy Drew: “Do act mysterious. It always keeps them coming back for more.”

Walking up the steps to the beckoning wraparound porch and into the shop, I inhale deeply, smelling books. If they could bottle that fragrance, I’d wear that cologne all day and spray it on my pillow at night.

Liz greets me and says no one ever has a hard time finding Commonplace Reader because it’s right across the street from the Wawa.

Liz fell in love with books as a child and the love affair never ended. Her first book memory is of sitting on her father’s lap, reading him a bedtime story, and feeling so proud of herself because of this new and wonderful skill she had mastered.

After earning her M.B.A. from Boston College, she spent many years leading global teams at Johnson & Johnson. In 1991, she came to Bucks County and raised three children in the Pennsbury School District. When it came time to start her shop, there was no question in her mind she had found the perfect location in downtown Yardley.

Since it began, Commonplace Reader has existed to “support community exploration, inspiration, and connection,” and it has contributed to neighborhood unity in more ways than just book sales would indicate.

There is something for everyone here:

Two rooms filled with children’s books and designated story hours.

Author events where you can meet the person who wrote the book you’re reading.

A writers’ group that meets monthly where writers, professional and novice, can try out ideas and read short pieces to other writers for feedback.

Unusual gifts you’d be unlikely to find anywhere else.

And for those of us who like to talk about what we’ve read, there are six book clubs that meet monthly: Women’s Literature Fiction, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Social Equity, Romance, and the Sustainability Book Club that meets to discuss books, but also to talk about practical applications of sustainability so that a positive impact can be made. There are booklists on the website for each club so that new members can jump right in.

Liz is a dyed-in-the-wool Yardleyan. (Is that a word?) She’s the treasurer for Experience Yardley, a nonprofit organization that plans and manages events to “show off Yardley’s charm, natural assets, and great downtown.” Even the Commonplace Reader logo, Franki, the mule, harks back to the borough. You can’t see it, but Franki was imagined by Liz to be bringing books to the shop by barge, as he might well have in the 1800s and before when Yardley as a river town was a transportation hub.

Even the employees are homegrown. All live locally in the Yardley community. But what really unites them isn’t a shared location. It’s that, even more than booksellers, they are book readers.

“As readers,” Liz says, “we try to find resonance with the books we purchase, read, and share with our friends and family.”

That’s the reason Commonplace Reader exists.

So take that, Amazon.

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