Interview with a Bookstore: White Square Books
A Little Bit of Paris in the Pioneer Valley
White Square Fine Books & Art is nestled in the town of Easthampton, Mass., deep in the heart of the Pioneer Valley. Eileen Corbeil and her husband purchased a beautiful old building at 86 Cottage Street, in April 2010, and spent nine months renovating the space, opening the store in December, 2010. The name White Square is borrowed from La Place Blanche, one of the small plazas along the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris, where, in the early 1900s, clouds of chalky dust were churned up by carts carrying plaster of Paris and where Degas, Picasso and other artists lived and worked. We spoke with Eileen as White Square Books approaches its fifth anniversary.
Why did you open a bookstore in the Pioneer Valley?
We needed a place to shelve and organize the thousands of books that filled our home and were making the floor joists sag! Though we also hoped to encourage reading and a love for books, and add a literary dimension to our artistic and musical hometown.
What’s your favorite section in the store?
Eileen: No easy answer since I love stocking the shelves and working the counter, greeting regulars or meeting new people, especially children. Perhaps because it happens too infrequently, I love working quietly in the basement where our rare and collectible books are housed and where I can (without interruption) do research on inscriptions, signatures, first editions, etc.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
I would expand in three areas: (1) more and better space to display rare books and host interesting exhibitions; (2) more and better space for children, including a welcoming and fun event space; and (3) space to offer the occasional high tea like you might find in Cornwall and Devon.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
We do great events with authors and artists. At our annual Bloomsday lunch we’ll read and discuss a portion of Ulysses and enjoy a light Leopold Bloom-type lunch. We sponsored Easthampton’s first Book Festival in April on a shoestring budget and attracted more than 1,000 people to the 20 or so events. Plus, I have a knack for finding cool and collectible items of interest to bibliophiles (see Americana catalog).
What’s the oddest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Customers (and their dogs) have always been great!
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
I grew up in rural Vermont where there were no bookstores. We relied on the regional lending library, which deposited books in our neighbor Stella’s dining room once a month. I adored choosing and checking out books, especially because Stella was a great cook and usually offered me a homemade donut.
If you weren’t running/working at a bookstore what would you be doing?
I’d still be working in a senior management position in higher education. And wishing I were running a bookstore…
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
I opened the bookstore because it seemed like it would be fun for me (and it is). But I’ve learned that bookstores are integral to the intellectual life of a community, and filling this need (and being able to sustain the effort) has been incredibly rewarding.
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