Passing through Harrisburg last Sunday night on an impromptu Pennsylvania getaway, I found myself with a half-hour to spare and figured I’d check out what was said to be a terrific used-book store, Midtown Scholar Books. But nothing I’d read or heard about it quite prepared me for this:
….and what you see here are just two of the store’s six levels. Needless to say, I spent a lot more time there than a half-hour, and a lot more money than I had intended. As it was Sunday night, things were slow. But you could tell this was a terrific social and cultural hub in the neighborhood, with an art exhibition space, a café, a big stage for readings, a large children’s section, and that wonderful open gallery, filled with more books as well as secret reading nooks, ringing the second floor.
I was knocked out by the place the way I was by Powell’s the first time I saw it. I also felt rocketed back to the recent past—the pre-Amazon, pre-Kindle era–when New York City boasted fabulous destination bookstores, most of them on Fifth Avenue. Emporiums for new–not used–books, and often for records as well (we had records in those days, not CD’s), these were places with stunning architecture, knowledegable staff, and huge selections. Rizzoli, Scribner’s, Doubleday, Brentano’s—you could spend an afternoon caroming among them down Fifth Avenue.
Great large-scale bookstores still exist, and it remains a pleasure to spend time in places like Strand, Barnes and Noble on Union Square, and the aforementioned Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. And Rizzoli has found a new home, further downtown on Broadway and 26th St. But I wish I could pass on to another generation the sheer thrill of walking into one of those Fifth Avenue architectural beauties, where you felt surrounded by possibility and enriched by the sheer elegance and grace of these vast literary temples. In a more casual way, Midtown Scholar brought back that sensation to me. I’m glad it’s around, and it gives me a good reason to look forward to my next trip to Harrisburg.