11/17/13 MYSTERY LOVES COMPANY
Would you like to go where they really know your name? Better yet, if you read mysteries, they know what you want to read?
Try your local independent mystery bookstore. I drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last week to the quiet shores of Oxford, Maryland, to drop in on Kathy Harig and the Mystery Loves Company Bookstore. An energetic woman with short white hair wearing a blue turtleneck and corduroy slacks, Harig greeted me with a smile as she waved good-bye to a woman bemoaning the fate of two handsome oak trees in town. The store is on the main street in a building dating from 1900—it’s on the Historic Register–and used as a bank and then a post office for 30 years each. The vault is still intact and, like the rest of the store, packed with books.
Oxford is a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that, says Harig, is full of authors, poets, artists, and sailors. Sometimes they’re all four. But mostly, she says, they are readers.
“I love holiday time,” she says, “when whole families come in and the head of the family says, ‘pick out what you want for your Christmas (or Hanukkah) present.’
“And I love it when grandmothers come in with their grandchildren and let them pick out a book or two. Sometimes, a person will want me to select a number of books to have available when company comes. Reading is what they do in Oxford.”
Harig is a career librarian who worked for the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore from 1977 to 2001. She and a partner bought The Butler Did It Mystery Bookstore in Baltimore in 1991. They changed the name and moved the store to Baltimore’s historic Fells Point. When her partner died in 2001, Harig resigned from the library to manage the store full time. She added the Oxford store in 2006 and eventually closed the one in Baltimore. The store is open year-round, although hours are curtailed in winter. Even so, numerous activities are scheduled, such as their annual Jane Austen/1813 Christmas Tea with English tea, scones, and sweets. You can find out more about this and other activities at mysterylovescompany.com.
Harig is a long-time supporter of mystery authors. Her conversation is sprinkled with the names of mystery authors she knows personally. Carolyn Hart, Sharon McCrumb, Joan Hess, Donna Andrews, to name just a few.
As a member of the American Library Association, she became the first liaison to Sisters in Crime, an association formed in 1987 to equalize opportunities for women mystery book authors. She brought in local fiction and mystery authors to read and sign books at the ALA conventions.
Harig is an author herself of Libraries, the Military and Civilian Life, (1989) and co-author of The Librarian’s Idea Book (1992). She has a radio show every Friday morning called “Chesapeake Bestsellers” on WCEI 96.7 FM out of Easton, MD. It streams on WCEIRadio.com.
As I talked with Harig and listened to her conversations with customers, I made notes about the mystery authors they discussed and thought about what a great resource this store is. For those of us who constantly seek new mystery authors we’d enjoy, Harig is the one to ask. She even takes care to stock complete series—including the out-of-print books in a series, which she buys used—because as she says, “readers want to start at the beginning.”
Also, unlike the big chains and libraries, which have turned to centralized acquisitions, she makes her own decisions about what books to stock, keeping a lookout for ones that will especially appeal to her customers.
An independent bookstore is an important community asset, says Harig. “We partner with other businesses in the town as well as with charities, schools, museums, etc., to support literacy, children’s reading, and the community. I love to see children sharing picture books or pop-up books,” says Harig. “You can’t do that with a Kindle. Books are beautiful.”