Tachair, Grace Church and Others Help Fill the Bookstore Void in Jersey CityBy John Trigonis • Mar 13th, 2012 • Category: Arts, Featured
Hoboken has Symposia. Montclair has the Montclair Book Center. What does Jersey City have? A lot of page-turning intellectuals, word-tossing writers, students researching their way to degrees and other aficionados of the written word, but not a single traditional bookstore.
We have bistros and trendy retail shops, but no place bibliophiles can call their own. If the readers of Jersey City want a place to browse titles, sit and read, they have to take the PATH to Manhattan for shops like Mercer Street Books and the Strand.
One could argue that there is hardly a demand for a physical bookstore these days with the widespread availability of eBooks and readers such as Kindles, Nooks and iPads. A substantial number of bookstores large and small have been forced to close due to the those and the impressive reach and range of online outlets like Amazon. Even Barnes and Noble, which used to put its small, indie competitors out of business, is being forced to close its doors across the country.
But in a city as multifaceted as Jersey City, there may well be a need for a central site where its philosophes can go to pick up books – real, physical books – and linger a moment with fellow admirers of the written word.
Years ago, the Book Room on Grove was frequented by college students and local residents and served as a safe haven for new and used texts. The Book Room also hosted various events, open mics and readings that fostered relationships between those in attendance and promoted a meaningful exchange of ideas and witty banter. But the store has long since closed.
“The Book Room was a great place to find discounted books that were either first editions or no longer circulating,” recalls Jersey City resident Raul Garcia, who used to go there. “At least a fourth of my collection is indebted to the Book Room.”
These days, Garcia heads to the Strand for his poetry and philosophy.
“The fact that Jersey City no longer has a bookstore is puzzling to me considering the proliferation of artists and the like residing in the Downtown area,” he says.
The Waldenbooks at Newport Centre has also long since gone out of business, but there are some semblances of bookstores scattered throughout the city. There’s the weekly used book sale at Grace Church on Erie Street, which sells hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for 50 cents and offers a number of free books for the taking. But despite its overstocked shelves, tables and milk crates filled with bookish delights, its selection, though broad, lacks the kind of variety offered by bookstores in Manhattan.
The city’s colleges have their bookstores, such as Hudson County Community College, which offers a limited selection of fiction and nonfiction titles along with textbooks at its shop in Journal Square.
And comic book lovers and game masters have a hangout spot in FJB Comics & Games on Coles Street, which prides itself on its knowledge of all things comic book. But aside from FJB’s friendly service, the store itself is much smaller than its counterparts across the river.
There is one venue, however, that’s championing the cause and campaign to give booklovers in Jersey City a place to get together, converse and buy some books.
Tachair is a roving used bookstore founded by Aleta Valleau that sets up at the Grove Street Farmer’s Market. When she started out, she was bringing two boxes of books to sell; now that number has climbed to nearly 10, though it varies on any given day.
Valleau believes that because a book is a physical object, in today’s digital world that’s enough to deem it interesting.
“People value the used book for its essence – its life before,” she says.
She has also had many conversations with the readership of Jersey City, and the message is universal: People want a bookstore, a place where they can spend time perusing shelves and talking with others who love to read.
Tachair is a Gaelic word meaning “to meet,” and Valleau says people often stop to talk to her and the other roving readers over the books at her shop.
In addition to peddling books, Tachair has provided some help to the Jersey City Public Library, which has struggled under funding cuts from the state. Through Opus Jr., an outreach arm of Tachair, Valleau’s son Paul sets up on sidewalks outside various Jersey City shops and sells children’s books, another rare find around Jersey City, and donates the proceeds to the library’s branches.
Valleau hopes to open more than just the cardboard flaps to a dozen boxes of books to the reading public by one day opening the doors to a physical bookstore that would further nurture the book reading culture Downtown.
In the meantime, there are other venues helping to provide what a bookstore might. Cafes like the Warehouse in the Powehouse Arts District and Beechwood on Grove Street are serving as a meeting place for local readers to congregate. These places are often filled with young readers, writers and aspiring actors poring over screenplays and searching for inspiration.
Photos of Tachair courtesy of Aleta Valleau; sign at Grace Church by Marinell Montales.
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