When you walk through the doors of Hudson Valley Books for Humanity, off Main Street in Ossining, NY, there’s a lot to take in.
I was first impressed by the chairs. Arranged in pairs or tucked between stacks, they’re a highlight of the whole experience.
So, of course I wanted to do a photo shoot with chairs as my angle. I even had a title for the article these photos would feature in: “Come Sit a Spell—at Hudson Valley Books for Humanity.”
But here’s the thing.
Unless there’s an event at this fabulous book store that opened its doors in November of 2021, virtually no one is sitting.
High ceilings, gorgeous wood floors, tall windows, the general spacious arrangement of merchandise— it all conspires to keep people on their feet. (Outlier: I have, on occasion, seen people sit on the floor between stacks while browsing in the pre-loved book sections.)
Proprietor Amy Hall (pictured above) has a vibrant vision. The new books section at the front of the store is filled with diverse voices, titles by women, and social and ecological work. The pre-loved section is everyone else.
The rest of the store shows Amy’s value for things past: old radios, a rack of albums, rare books.
The dress form and thread bin, though, are more than vintage curios. Amy’s first career, which she still devotes part-time hours to, was in the fashion industry. Working for Eileen Fisher, she has helped them address supply chain and other issues related to sustainability.
It should be no surprise that you can also find merchandise that promotes a peaceful, sustainable lifestyle. Incense sticks, original art, upcycled glasses, pottery by local artisans, beeswax candles, seeds, soaps.
Okay, and speaking of soap, The Refillery station is inspired. Rather than buying your dish soap over and again in plastic bottles, you can can refill right here.
Caveat: it’s hard to self serve.
(That’s a story in itself, involving a large volume of soap dispensing into a very small funnel. The soap did manage to brilliantly clean the Weleda bottle that I partly dispensed said soap into. Given that the bottle previously had essential oils in it, this is really saying something.) The refillery station also carries reusable kitchen items.
When you visit Hudson Valley Books, which I hope you do soon, you might want to try what bookseller Janet Kraybill (pictured above) suggested to Alexian Jackson, who happened to be searching for a book to take with her to work: apparently, there’s a selfie trend afoot… to take a picture with a book that resembles you. Janet pulled a title off the shelf and handed it to Alexian, and it was my great privilege to take a photo of the moment.
Janet also creates book tables with staff picks. Check out the fiction fave table, for instance:
Or, go on a blind date with a book that the staff have wrapped up for you:
Before wrapping up my own photo shoot, I was delighted to find myself in conversation with one of the warmest, most wonderful people I’ve met in a while: Pat Poole-Parrilla.
Standing near the Lilliputian art table, we talked about education, about the work of Lisa Delpit, about Pat’s dissertation that focuses on teachers’ reflections on working with black and brown children. We talked about Harlem. We talked about Pat’s daughter, whose childhood heart led her to become vegetarian while she was still in preschool, after learning that a chicken nugget used to, as Pat put it, “belong on a chicken.” That daughter, now age 50, is still vegetarian today.
All in all, it is probably better that people are standing by each other at Hudson Valley Books.
“This is the kind of thing I hope will happen,” says Amy, when she watches Pat say goodbye to me—and has seen the beginning of what could, if nourished, grow into a friendship. The encounter is a beautiful reminder that we are not alone in this world if we take the time to share our stories… in or out of a book.