We all know it’s cheaper to buy books online or at the big box national discount chains. I could have saved $12.10 the other day if I had gone on Amazon or over to Barnes & Noble.
But if we’re lucky enough to have a local bookstore nearby we ought to do what we can to help keep it alive, right? So I was happy to spend those extra bucks at Mrs. Dalloway’s Books, a special spot in my corner of town.
A homegrown bookshop inspired by Virginia Woolf
My little neighborhood in Berkeley is called the Elmwood. There are only about three blocks of shops, cafes and restaurants, and one old deco movie theater.
The Elmwood doesn’t quite fit the image of Republic of Berkeley radical politics.
It’s quiet and slow here — practically a throwback to the fifties — though Ozzie’s funky soda fountain has now given way to a new ice cream boutique, called “Ici” – get it? A little precious, but very popular, judging from the long lines down the block, even when it’s raining. I’ve been a few times myself but, I’ve got to say, I’m more of a fan of homemade ice cream. My friend has a special place on their kitchen countertop for an andrew james ice cream maker and they have some ice cream readymade whenever they know I’m coming round as they know it’s my favorite. I’m not cheeky enough to dictate what flavor I would like so I always leave it up to their discretion – I do love a surprise!
We know we’re lucky
At a time when independent book stores are shutting down across the country, here in the Elmwood we’re fortunate to have Mrs. Dalloway’s, a homegrown bookshop inspired by the first line of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 literary novel: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
There’s a resident mannequin in the window representing Mrs. Dalloway, usually dressed in witty outfits that evoke both Virginia Woolf and a spirit of the good green world of flowers and gardening.
It’s not a huge place, but open and airy, with tables of recommended books and walls lined with many more titles spine-out. There’s a conservatory-like feel with a strong ‘green’ motif: eco-friendly seagrass and slate floor coverings, rattan chairs and the fixtures and wood moldings are painted in earthy natural colors.
Catering to the customer
The store has a distinct attitude and approach, and caters to its customers. In addition to literary fiction, current affairs, mysteries, biography, memoir, travel literature, poetry, and children’s books, there’s a large selection of gardening books chosen for their utility in Berkeley’s Mediterranean climate, plus shelves of books devoted to architecture and design.
Beyond books, Mrs. Dalloway’s sells things related thematically to the store’s concept: potted plants, unusual copper, ceramic, and glass vases to hold cut flowers; original art for hanging, including watercolors, photography and weavings, and also English, French, and German botanical and insect prints.
And Mrs. Dalloway’s offers free same-day delivery in the neighborhood. They even understand the Importance of local SEO in 2020, helping them reach their local customers. Take that, Amazon!
I absolutely love gardening so I often pay a visit to this store to pick up new plants. Also, at the moment I am currently in the middle of a little landscaping project in my backyard and therefore I am trying to invest in as many colorful flowers as possible. I have a few home improvement projects on the go, but my garden is my pride and joy. I get a lot of helpful tips from amateur gardeners such as myself, like what’s the best 0-20-20 fertilizer to use in your garden, I appreciate the help, because you never know when you may get some information that helps you out.
A few weeks ago I actually managed to pick up some gorgeous perennials and a fruit tree from 7dees garden center. Slowly but surely my garden is starting to come together and it is thanks to independent shops like this one that my backyard looks so bright and colorful.
Honestly, I could spend hours sat in my garden reading and writing. It is such a relaxing space.
Another indie bookstore perk: local author readings
The owners, two longtime friends, program a regular series of events that focus on mainly local authors of literary fiction, poetry, and topics of special interest to the neighborhood. Michael Pollan, best-selling author of The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food, has spoken and read there, as have Nafisa Haji, from her novel The Writing on My Forehead, and Eve Pell from her memoir We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante.
Mrs. Dalloway’s has the occasional sale but doesn’t discount books on a regular basis. I suspect that it’s difficult for them to compete with the big retailers like Barnes & Noble or the giant store-killing colossus of Amazon.
So sure, I could have saved $12 the other day by shopping at Amazon in these tough financial times. But I think it’s worth it to support my neighborhood bookstore, with all its perky charm and passionate devotion to providing what its local customers want.
Do you still have a neighborhood bookstore?
OK. That’s Mrs. Dalloway’s, my neighborhood bookstore. What’s yours? Hope you still have one. Please leave comments and let’s share what we hope will be a continuing tradition of the unique and irreplaceable independent bookstore.
And if you’ve got a photo of your bookstore, send it to and we’ll post it along with mine of Mrs. Dalloway’s. Please write “bookstore photo” in the subject line, and in the email include the name of the store and town.
Your favorite bookstores
Here we go, the first one in from the coastal town of Cannon Beach, Oregon. The quintessential little independent bookstore, isn’t it? Makes you want to pull up a chair. We’d love to see more favorite bookshops, from all corners of the map, so send them over!