EAST SANDWICH — From her kitchen table Nancy Titcomb watches customers make their way across the parking lot into Titcomb’s Bookshop, the bookstore she and her husband, Ralph, founded 50 years ago. Starting with a focus on rare and antiquarian books, the couple expanded the store over the years to include bestsellers, children’s books, cards, and toys. In 1974, their oldest son, Ted, crafted the colonial man statue that beckons book lovers on Route 6A; in 1987, Ted and his brother Paul built a barn-style building that allowed them to move the shop out of the house; and in 1991, daughter Vicky joined the family business and began expanding the store’s inventory of new books.
Titcomb’s is one of a dozen or more independent bookstores on Cape Cod, and a visit to any one of them this summer — to pick up a good beach read, scope out local history, or settle in for story time — will quickly dispel any notion that books or bookstores have gone out of style.
In addition to books, Titcomb’s offers a large inventory of toys and games, author talks and book signings, and summer story times. The store’s success, says Nancy Titcomb, is based on a simple formula: “Carefully paying attention to what our customers are looking for.” Adds Vicky Titcomb: “We know our customers, we know the type of books they like, and we watch out for them.” www.titcombsbookshop.com
At Parnassus Book Service Inc. in a three-story, 19th-century building in Yarmouthport — formerly the Knowles General Store — books fill every square inch of shelves from floor to the 20-foot-high tin ceiling (ladders are placed thoughtfully about). There are more books in neat piles on the floor and still more books overflowing cartons next to the piles. The range of titles is mind-boggling, from bestsellers to antiquarian and rare volumes: I resisted the urge to buy a copy of Simeon Deyo’s “History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts,” published in 1890 (in no small part because I needed help lifting it). You can also find sheet music, posters, book bags, and glass cup plates.
Sarah Muse Romano runs the shop her father founded in 1959, which is also known for its honor-system outdoor book stall: Buyers can help themselves and leave their money under the door. parnassusbooks.com
The Brewster Book Store is a bright, colorful warren of small rooms that draw a visitor from the entrance all the way to a cozy space at the back filled with cloth and board books, “busy books” for babies, and stuffed animals. John and Nancy Landon opened the store in 1982. Children’s books were Nancy’s passion, said Val Arroyo, who visited the store as a child and now works there. Though Nancy died in 2011, the store continues to take special pride in its children’s book collection, Arroyo said. The selection ranges from classics like “Anne of Green Gables” and Sherlock Holmes to “first chapter books,” to new young adult fiction to nonfiction for kids.
Brewster also stocks adult bestsellers, including books by Cape Cod authors, and a big selection of cards, stationery, gifts, games, and toys (the collection of stickers is beyond impressive). The store hosts a robust schedule of events, including author visits and book signings. Children’s story times are held Tuesday and Fridays at 10 a.m. all summer. brewsterbookstore.com
Joanne Doggart and Caitlin Doggart-Bernal, the mother-daughter team behind Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore & Children’s Annex in Chatham, have crafted a big, bright airy space designed for book lovers of every age. A two-story modern-day barn holds a large selection of books for grown-ups, many tagged with handwritten recommendations from staff, along with books for elementary- and middle-school students and young adults. There’s a corner for books by Cape Cod authors, many of them autographed, and an extensive selection of cookbooks and books about cooking.
On the other side of a breezy porch, the “children’s annex” overflows with children’s books, toys, and games. A highlight of this section, says manager Joanie Goodrow, is the display of whimsical children’s books illustrated by Bob Staake, best known for his New Yorker magazine covers.
The bookstore’s summer literary luncheons at the Wequassett Resort with best-selling authors such as Amor Towles and Martha Hall Kelly are just about sold out, as are the Fancy Nancy tea parties held at the Captain’s House Inn. But there’s plenty of room for story times on the porch Wednesdays at 10 a.m. for the rest of the summer. Summing up the store’s philosophy, Goodrow says, “We try to keep it real, and we try to keep it friendly.” www.booksonthecape.com
You’ll know you’re at Eight Cousins in Falmouth when you see the alphabet throne by the front door. The bronze sculpture by Falmouth artist Sarah Peters is a chair formed of letters of the alphabet, and the surface of each letter has texture of an object that starts with that letter. Opened in 1986, Eight Cousins began as a children’s bookstore but today is about 50-50 children’s and adult offerings, according to co-owner Sara Hines, who handles children’s book buying and marketing.
One display promotes “beach reads,” books that are not too heavy but not too light, Hines says. “It’s like a New England beach — it requires a little bit of effort,” she explains. Co-owner Mary Fran Buckley lists “The Atomic Weight of Love” and “Homegoing” among her beach-read recommendations.
Eight Cousins also carries lots of projects for a rainy day, including Melissa & Doug toys. Summer events include visits by best-selling authors, talks by young adult book authors, and story time geared to ages 2-5 every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. www.eightcousins.com
Whether you’re searching for a beach read, books about Cape Cod lore and history, or children’s literature, Cape Cod’s independent bookstores are up to the task. As Parnassus Book Service’s motto puts it, “Books open, you fall in.”
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.