Stories live on through Madison used bookstore | Madison Eagle News | newjerseyhills.com – New Jersey Hills

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Updated: October 5, 2021 @ 6:35 am
The Chatham Bookseller Manager Hailey Brock and owner Richard Chalfin are pictured on Friday, Sept. 10, at the used bookstore in downtown Madison.

The Chatham Bookseller Manager Hailey Brock and owner Richard Chalfin are pictured on Friday, Sept. 10, at the used bookstore in downtown Madison.
MADISON – Richard Chalfin used to think people sell their old books for the money.
After all, his love of the proverbial art of the deal, the transaction, is what propelled him in his 40 years of “hunting” for rare volumes as a book scout in and around New York City.
It took owning his own used bookstore, The Chatham Bookseller at 8 Green Village Road in downtown Madison, however, for him to appreciate why many will donate their old books or sell them at a discount.
“It’s a lesson you learn and it took me a long time to realize it,” he said on a recent Friday at the bookstore. “I was always so concerned about buying and selling, how much they want and how much I want to pay, but it’s not about the money. It means something to them and they’ll feel good if you find a home for their books.
“That’s what’s important to people: The truth is people just want their books to have a home.”
Staff Picks
Chatham Bookseller was on the verge of closing in 2015 when Chalfin and former business partner Kathy Rodgers bought the used bookstore from former owner Jesse Mann, who left to become the theological librarian at Drew University.
A fourth-generation bookseller, Chalfin, 70, of Brooklyn, left behind his Manhattan office where he had made his career as a book scout to buy the shop. In doing so, he and Rodgers saved a roughly 50-year-old business at a time when more and more bookstores were shuttering under the pall of large online retailers like Amazon.
He now runs The Chatham Bookseller with store manager Hailey Brock, a 24-year-old Chatham native who lives in Madison.
The two are a sort of odd couple, combining youth and experience, love of literature and industry acumen to keep the store buzzing.
Brock first started working at the store as a teenager through a Chatham High School program in which students do work internships instead of attending school for a month in their senior spring.
“I basically never left,” says Brock, who would work at the store in the summers between undergraduate and master’s studies in English at Durham University in England and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, respectively.
She began working full-time at the store in September 2020 following Rodgers’ retirement in July of that year. Chalfin says the business has taken off since then.
“I get to do what I love to do, which is to buy and sell,” says Chalfin. “And she has the ability to see things in the overall picture; she really has skill in that way. She loves books and she loves the culture of it, and she understands what interests people.”
Brock is a lover of literary fiction, but her taste covers a spread of genres from metafiction to nonfiction and memoirs. Mostly, she says, she just loves good writing.
Chalfin, too, loves books, but despite spending his entire life around them, he doesn’t read much.
“I wait for the movie to come out,” he quips.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” he adds, “but when I do read something I feel so good about it that I just can’t help telling people, ‘You’ve got to read this book!’”
The shop maintains a “staff picks” section featuring the tandem’s latest reads.
Chalfin recently contributed “The Power Broker,” Robert Caro’s tome on influential New York City bureaucrat Robert Moses, and “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. Brock has added modern fiction works by Susanna Clarke and Elena Ferrante, whom she cited among her favorite authors for her psychologically realistic depiction of characters.
“See, this is what I mean,” Chalfin interjects. “I’ll have two books and she’ll have six hundred.”
Learning To Get Lost
Part of the allure of used bookstores like The Chatham Bookseller is there is no telling what one will find.
While the shop does carry many popular works familiar to any reader, a shopper dead set on finding a specific book would do better to learn to get lost. In scanning the stacks with soft eyes rather than narrowing the search to a particular work, customers open themselves to literary journeys they may have otherwise never traversed.
A reader on a Russian literature kick may not find “Anna Karenina” as they had initially hoped, but they are likely to leave the store with a Dostoyevsky classic, a lesser known Turgenev and a Brit Lit paperback that had never sniffed their book list.
In that way, the shop offers a unique experience in the on-demand age of the internet and big box stores, Brock says.
“I think people are losing that ability to just go in and see what they can find,” she says. “In the outreach for the store we’ve been encouraging that idea of wandering and seeing what you stumble across, because I think people now tend to be a bit too laser-focused on one book when they might enjoy something else they come across here.”
Chalfin says his father, when he knew a regular customer wanted a specific item, would hide it amid the shelves to allow the reader to feel like they had discovered it.
“People want to feel like they found something,” he says.
While The Chatham Bookseller cannot promise to have a specific book on its shelves or on its website, customers are likely to find rare books there that they would never find in another bookstore.
Currently in stock are a book signed by five U.S. Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, and a signed Charles Dickens first edition. Ephemera, vintage postcards, classical music scores and 1960s editions of “Life” and “Mad Magazine” populate a portion of the shop.
A copy of the Codex Mendoza, a 16th century Aztec history, sits a few feet away from cookbooks, vintage edition paperbacks, mystery novels and children’s books. The diversity of the selection allows readers to dive into or discover niche topics, Brock says.
Noting a customer recently purchased a first edition of “A Christmas Carol,” Chalfin admits to having bittersweet feelings when selling a rare book of particular literary or historical value.
“There is a certain feeling of ‘oh gee, I wish we had that back,’” he says, “but the beauty of having a store is having the opportunity to obtain those items.”
While the quality of the book selection is the most important thing, Chalfin and Brock say the store sells an experience just as it sells literature.
The shop’s creaky wooden floors and alleys of books create a comfortable atmosphere, Brock says, and an environment for relaxed browsing. The laid-back vibe stretches to a bookshelf on the sidewalk outside the store, where shoppers can buy a book by slipping 50 cents under the door in an honor system.
Chalfin adds people need destinations, places they can go in the internet age.
“There is only so long you can look at a computer in any field, whether it’s fashion or food,” he says. “You want to get out, and we really cater to that. I call it an amusement park of the mind, you can come in here and lose yourself. For some people, they really feel like this is their store, this is where they come to get lost.”
Passing It On
Chalfin no longer hunts for rare finds in Manhattan shops, but books find their way to his store in a number of ways.
The Chatham Bookseller will make house calls or welcome residents to bring their collections to the shop when they are downsizing, moving out or holding an estate sale. Other books come through donations and library sales.
Brock says she gets a feeling of satisfaction when customers buy a particular book she put on display or in the “staff picks” section.
When the store is “really cooking,” Chalfin says he can feel it.
“It’s like a flow,” he says. “When books are coming in and going out, I get a charge and it goes out to the customer. You feel it and the people feel it.”
As a book finds a new home at the bookstore when a resident moves out or sells their parents’ old collection, it does so again when the store makes a sale. For both the new buyer and the bookstore, it’s about more than the money.
“When you get excited about a book, there’s probably thousands of people who have had the same reaction,” Chalfin says. “You pass it on in that way.”
To learn more about The Chatham Bookseller, or to browse its inventory, visit www.chathambookseller.com.
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