Friday, December 27, 2013

Westside Stories Used Books

Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, a book lover went on a quest for the perfect little book shop. This is the story of how the quest ended. 

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.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Parkside Candies

Parkside Candies is one of those Buffalo gems that you just have to know about, because it doesn't catch the eye or put itself out there. Here's a picture of the outside. See what I mean? Maybe you've heard about it because it was used in the filming of The Natural. I heard about it from a coworker, and was surprised because at that time I was driving by it every day to and from work. On one of those drives, I decided to take 10 minutes to see what it was all about. It's located on Main St near South Campus, in the same few blocks as Amy's Place and Shango Bistro. I had no trouble parking and I was pleasantly surprised by what was waiting for me inside.
Did you expect that? I didn't. It feels a bit like being on a movie set. There's an ice cream counter where you expect to see characters from It's a Wonderful Life sipping sodas. The ice cream can only be ordered if you sit down and eat it in the shop, where there are plenty of little tables and plenty to look at. 

Around the walls is the heart of the candy shop, where employees in uniform stand behind glass cases full of homemade chocolates and fudges. There are wooden shelves against wallpaper, and old-fashioned candy advertisements. Everything here is a bit over the top, but in a way that really works. They've played to the strengths of their establishment and provided an experience that is one-of-a-kind. 

I explored and took pictures, bought some fudge to share, and was on my way. I didn't mind leaving because I knew that I'd be back many times. I could easily imagine this being a fun family tradition, but if you take my advice you won't wait for a special occasion to stop by.