SOUTH HADLEY - In an age when more and more people are downloading reading materials, independent bookstores satisfy a need in readers like me, readers still in love with actual books. In the Pioneer Valley in central Massachusetts, the Odyssey Bookshop offers everything you would expect from an indie store, and more. With 4,000 feet of retail space, book lovers can peruse the shelves to their hearts’ content while benefiting from suggestions by the knowledgeable staff.
“Everyone who works here, including the owners, spends time on the floor. As a bookseller, it’s important to get to know our customers,’’ said Emily Crowe, assistant manager and buyer.
“We’re working with our third generation of customers,’’ said Joan Grenier, a co-owner.
The store’s history is personal for Grenier. In the late 1950s her father, Romeo Grenier, a French-Canadian immigrant, opened a pharmacy across from Mount Holyoke College. Unlike most drugstores, it included a bookstore that drew a literary crowd to its soda fountain booths. In 1963, Grenier moved the books to a separate location, and the Odyssey was born.
Having survived two fires in its almost 50-year history, the new incarnation in South Hadley is going strong, selling new, used, and antiquarian books, and supplying textbooks for the colleges nearby. The first floor features fiction, science fiction, mysteries, poetry, drama, and a children’s book area where kids can comfortably sprawl. On the second level, in addition to nonfiction and textbooks, are small gifts, writing items (including Moleskine notebooks), art supplies, and even chocolates. The second floor also hosts a series of author appearances.
“We do around 120 readings and events a year,’’ said Sydney Towne, the events coordinator. “We mainly offer adult readings, though we also do a lot of story time and kids’ events.’’
“We’ve hosted Jodi Picoult, Richard Russo, Judy Blume, Stephen King, and multiple Pulitzer Prize winners,’’ said Grenier. “And we cosponsor events with Mount Holyoke.’’
The store is also committed to promoting new and emerging authors. A recent event featuring Lynne Barrett reading from her third collection of stories, “Magpies,’’ was also the first night Odyssey began charging a $5 fee for its events. This follows what many independent bookstores around the country are doing to offset losses from Internet sales. No one in the audience seemed to mind, as the fee can be applied toward the purchase of a book, or anything else in the store, at any time.
“If you’ve already spent five dollars for the reading, why not spend another 15 to buy the author’s book?’’ said Towne.
There’s no coffee shop or soda fountain in the store, but you need not go far for sustenance and other entertainment. The Odyssey is located in a complex that includes a two-screen movie theater, gift and clothing boutiques, and several restaurants.
Odyssey Bookstore 9 College St., South Hadley, 413-534-7307, www.odysseybks.comNecee Regis can be reached at email@example.com.