A few years ago a friend told me that a little book shop had opened up across from Sweetness 7 Grant. I visited one evening after work. It was a small, cozy place full of wood and paper, and seemed to be bigger on the inside as you explored further and further back. The shop owner had greeted me by the door, and as I browsed I heard two young children talking while coloring at a short table in the children's section. The kids began talking to me immediately and the little girl asked for my opinion on some color choices in her inscrutable drawing. I stayed longer than I meant, bought more than I ought, and was thoroughly happy. As I was leaving the little girl came flying after me to give me her drawing, saying, "I drew it for you!" and totally making my night.
A few months ago I was sorting through some papers and found the drawing, which of course I have kept. I laughed and brought it with me to show the shop owners, who are now my friends. The thing about a little book shop isn't just the books: it's the character and the atmosphere in the store, created and defined by the people buying and selling within its walls. That element is what makes Westside Stories my ultimate little book shop.
I mentioned there was a kids play area - they also give away free childrens books to kids in need. Along those lines, they collect and give away dictionaries to refugees and immigrants wanting to improve their English. While the point of a business is to be profitable, Westside Stories has always included an additional mission of giving the community what it needs. For one thing, that means investing in the community's education. For another, that means opening a bookstore that silently attests to the value of the neighborhood.
You can see Westside Stories taking its place on Grant St as more than just a bookshop, although it is also an excellent bookshop. The owners participate in local activities, nonprofit boards, and business associations. They provide a venue for local artists to sell their work, and a place for people to hang out and talk about their neighborhood.
Then, of course, there are the books themselves. I always find the perfect thing I am looking for, to a degree only explained by magic and multidimensional tomfoolery. Recently I was looking for something specific, so the owners kept an eye out and sent me a message when they found just the right thing. They have a great mix ranging from beautifully bound 100-year old books (my ultimate weakness!), to current bestsellers, to locally-made bibliophile paraphernalia.
The setting is also perfect. The store takes advantage of its natural wooden walls and ceiling, and from the front desk you can see into an attached greenhouse. Everything is just in balance between very organized and suitably disheveled, allowing your browsing experience to be both targeted and surprising.
I can't mention here all of the "extra" elements that make this little store shine - you'll have to make your own list as you get to know it. For the full experience, strike up a conversation with the owners when you stop by. Also, I would recommend you plan on making an afternoon of it. At 205 Grant St (near the intersection with Lafayette), they're in the middle of other great businesses like Sweetness 7, Guercio's, Press, Global Villages, and Freddy J's...so there's plenty to see, eat, and shop for.