Browsing for Book Bargains...
at Homestead Bookshop
(Marlborough, NH)
by Lori Hein

I get cheap thrills -- grocery bags filled to the brim with used hardcovers and
paperbacks for about $15 a sack -- from Robert Kenney's Homestead Bookshop in
Marlborough, New Hampshire.  

The shop, which Kenney told me his parents opened 35 years ago as a
"retirement and fun business" and which Kenney has run since 1981, is paradise
for browsers and bargain-hunters.  I've been a regular for 20 years.

Most of Kenney's customers are regulars, although he sees some of them but
once a year.  

"Our business is primarily out-of-town or out-of-state repeat business," he says.  
Homestead has cultivated a following among travelers passing the N.H. Route
101 shop on their way to or from somewhere else. For people whose reasons for
driving through Marlborough, N.H. are "everything imaginable," the modest
emporium of previously thumbed tomes is a destination in itself, "something
that's high on their list," says Kenney.  

He looks forward to visits from his "habitual" customers, people "who might be
driving from the seacoast to New York state or in the opposite direction, people
who have second homes, or who come home for the holidays or to visit parents. I
see some people the same weekend every year."

I live close enough to Homestead to be able to pay more frequent visits, and
every one is a lovely little trip.  

I usually squirrel myself in the corner that holds the shelves of used paperback
classics arranged alphabetically by authors' last names and priced at a quarter to
a buck a pop. At these prices, there's no economic need for restraint, so I make
towering piles of anything by Wharton or Rand, Welty or Hemingway, Hersey or
Greene that I haven't yet read and gradually move the piles from the floor to the
old desk at the front door that serves as the checkout area.

Even if I buy 30 new-old books, there will be 30 fresh choices awaiting me on my
next visit because Kenney is constantly restocking his inventory.  

One day, I found him surrounded by cardboard Budweiser cartons filled with
books that someone had just dropped off.  He was busy dusting them with a fat
brush he'd pulled from the chest pocket of his denim apron and was sorting them
by category.  The boxes held an eclectic array of titles from "Of Human Bondage"
and "Leaves of Grass" to "Handbook of Amazon Parrots" and "The Boston

I ask Kenney how often people come in with books for him to buy.  He smiles.  
"All the time.  Every day.  Every minute."

So there's always something for everyone in this cozy little store that offers the
gamut from cheap, dog-eared paperbacks to rare and precious first editions and
out-of-print treasures.  Coffee table books to antique volumes with gilt-embossed
covers and illuminated illustrations.  Back issues of popular magazines to the
occasional complete set of the "Hardy Boys."

And Kenney knows where every book is.  I've yet to see him stumped when
someone asks for a particular volume.  I told him his ability to put his hands so
quickly on a requested title impressed me.  "That's one of the advantages of this
shop," he says. "The organization.  Everything is categorized and orderly.  We
have categories.  We may not find it in the first category we try, but we're able to
narrow it down very quickly."

"How many books are in here?" I ask.  

"Fifty thousand," he answers without hesitation. I looked around and considered
what it might be like to be surrounded most of one's waking hours by fifty
thousand books.  "Do you love it?"  I ask.

Another smile.  "Yes."  He continues, "I'm involved with the books seven days a
week. Even when I'm not in the store, I'm often doing something book-related."

Like serving as president of the New Hampshire Antiquarian Booksellers
Association, enjoying biographies, his favorite genre, or gathering once a month
with about a dozen other booklovers to "read Shakespeare in the afternoon."

Contact Homestead Bookshop at 603-876-4213 or 800-834-3618 toll-free.

About the Author: Lori Hein has written over a hundred articles on a range of topics.  
She's the author of  "Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America" and
publisher of the world travel blog,
Ribbons of Highway , a Good Housekeeping Site of the
Day.  She splits her time between homes in the Boston area and Stoddard, NH.
Homestead Bookshop
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