Photos Courtesy of Cindy Fatsis
Back in 2019, as I followed the transformation of the modest, 150-year-old Victorian house on South Main Street in Yardley Borough into a bookstore, I had no idea that its owner and I had something in common: long deferred dreams coming true that fall.
When Elizabeth (Liz) Young moved to Yardley Borough in 1991, she had never heard of the municipal designation borough. She was immediately attracted to the idea of living in a close-knit community centered around a walkable downtown that brought to mind Miss Marple’s St. Mary’s Mead. There was just one thing missing from the quaint downtown of her adopted borough: a bookstore.
The seeds of a dream were sown, but Liz was busy raising three kids and working. The bookstore idea became something she would do eventually. The dream seeds would take thirty years to sprout, benefiting from an influx of time and energy called retirement.
Liz began researching bookstore reality in late 2018. By early 2019 she had watched every online video she could find, built a thick 3-ring notebook of how-to resources, and attended a “Bookstore Boot Camp” on Amelia Island, Florida with thirty other aspiring booksellers. She was ready to start looking at rental properties. Guided by her English village vision, she was committed to the idea of a house downtown. She wanted the cozy factor, an environment that felt homey and inviting, especially for kids. She imagined a room where children would gather for story hour, a room where book clubs would meet, chairs so shoppers could sit and sample selections, and nooks where young readers could linger. 49 S. Main Street checked all the boxes.
Next, she needed a name. She was attracted to the concept of the commonplace book that was widely used back in the days when the Yardley family was farming the land and the town was called Yardleyville. A commonplace book is devoted to capturing those day-to-day things its keeper finds remarkable, whether a revealing bit of conversation, an inspiring poem, or the clever design of a building. It is not intended to be used for mundane things, such as to-do lists or keeping a chronological diary.
Liz, an educator at heart, loved that such books were reference tools for personal enrichment, for remembering the remarkable. She also liked that common suggests that anyone can be such a reader. She wanted to create a space where the entire community would feel welcome to explore new ideas and activities. Commonplace Reader would be that place.
A logo was next and, in another nod to the rich history of the borough, Commonplace Reader’s logo features Franki the barge mule pulling a load of books along the Delaware Canal, a major transportation artery for regional commerce and connection for almost one hundred years. The combination of the mule barge, the commonplace book, and Liz’s curated inventory perfectly captures the themes she has established for her enterprise: Connect, Inspire & Explore.
Liz’s nine-month journey from dream to launch required a great deal of research and planning. She is particularly proud that the realization of her vision for a community meeting house has been such a local undertaking. “My carpenter, lawyer, accountant, landlord, the ship and print shop, the guys who installed my security system, even the bakery that provided the pastries for my opening are all within a block of our front door.” Even so, there was one aspect of the undertaking that took her by surprise: the tremendous outpouring of unsolicited support she received from the community.
One of the first people to reach out was literary agent, Mackenzie Brady Watson (SK Agency). A ten-year publishing industry veteran, Watson knows how special indie booksellers are to authors and to the health of the industry. When she read about what Liz was up to, she immediately contacted her to offer support.
“I’ve been so impressed by all that she’s accomplished,” Watson said. “She’s made the store such a welcoming place; my daughter loves the puppy dog pillows and train set upstairs. The thing about Liz, she always takes time to speak with her customers, she remembers their family members’ names and book tastes, and always has some news to share.”
Yardley-based marketer Lisa Gage (Hue Entertainment), reached out to Liz to hold a virtual book launch for local area author Lise Deguire’s memoir Flashback Girl. The event was so successful they did a second one. “I admire Liz’s mission to be a resource for the community,” Gage said. “Her store quickly became a place where people get together to share common interests.”
Deguire added, “Liz has been a terrific supporter of Flashback Girl and the works of other local writers. She has created a home for book lovers that is warm and welcoming, and where the staff is present and helpful.”
Another local writer, Marc Kaye, hosts monthly writing workshops in the store. “The emergence of the wealth of local talent has been something,” Kaye said. “A community of writers has come together all thanks to this great business.”
Staffer Amy DeLeo is delighted that the store has enjoyed such positive, enthusiastic support, but is not surprised. “Liz always finds a way to create an inclusive atmosphere, for us and our customers. Particularly during this rough pandemic year, we hope we’ve helped lift folks’ spirits.”
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, I had deferred my dream of being an author for thirty years while my wife and I also raised three kids and worked. My dream, too, would become a reality only after I retired.
When I walked into Commonplace Reader this year, I told Liz my first novel, The Femme Fatale Hypothesis, had been scheduled for release by Regal House Publishing, an independent, traditional publisher with a love of intimate, independent bookstores. I asked if she would be interested in a BookBound profile. She responded with all the qualities her fans describe: warmth, enthusiasm, and a genuine interest in me, both what I’m writing and, naturally, what I’m reading. In an era dominated by online bookstores and anonymous “influencers,” Yardley Borough’s Commonplace Reader and its passionate owner are refreshingly uncommon.
David R. Roth, author of The Femme Fatale Hypothesis, is a graduate of the Cedar Crest College’s Pan-European MFA program. He placed second in the inaugural Bucks County Short Fiction Contest judged by Janet Benton (Lilli de Jong) and was a quarter-finalist in Driftwood Press’s Adrift Short Story Contest. His short stories have been published by Passenger Journal and Moss.