This week, we venture into the world of fine books, which is a little out of my element. (Even the name of this particular store, Thomas A. Lyons Fine Books, sounded pretty posh.) Once I find it, tucked away on the first floor of the Neenah Marketplace, I realize it’s a pretty cozy little one-room space with bookshelves covering the walls. A table near the entrance displays children’s books, and the front windows showcase advertisements for the newest Harry Potter book. Framed quotes about reading and literature are interspersed throughout the bookshelves. I follow the bookstore owner, Mr. Lyons, to the adjoining staff room where he apologized for the mess as we step past a Butterbeer poster (also in celebration of J.K. Rowling’s newest book), display cases and many more bookshelves.
I learn right away that big changes were coming to the store. “We’re moving across the street to a space twice as big,” Mr. Lyons tells me, and he adds, “Our current location here–which I love!–is kind of tucked away.” While this does make it a sort of a hidden treasure, it is also a little tricky to find (for me, anyway).
“We’re going to be a storefront, right on the street,” he says, and adds, “We’re not a used bookstore, per say. We’ll still have our collectible and rare stuff, which is my particular passion,” but will also be expanding the biography, new fiction, history, young adult and children’s sections.
“I was a collector for many years and towards my last 10 years I was buying to sell,” Lyons says. “I had a pretty good eye for what was selling and what wasn’t. As we’re evolving as a business, and as a vital part of the community, we are noticing what people ask us about. They don’t necessarily want to find a $10,000 rare book.” He smiles. “Mind, I’d love it if they did!”
“Some people are intimidated when they come in here. They come in and they see these beautiful books…” He gestures as if trying to avoid some fragile object.
Aha! I’m not the only one who was afraid it was a hands-off, museum-like sort of place. “You don’t want to touch it,” I say, thinking of my own preconceptions.
“Yeah–gosh, ‘don’t pick that up’? That’s not what we want!” he says. “That’s what the physical book is for: to pick it up, look at it, open it, smell it–so, we’re trying to get away from that image. We want folks to appreciate our beautiful books, but we don’t want them to be intimidated by it.” If you’re still not sold on this bookstore, though, he points out, “The difference between us and [a certain chain bookstore that shall remain nameless] is not only our size, but when you come into my shop, and you’re not sure what you want to read, I will talk your ear off!” He’s not lying–we took time during our visit to chat about the history of dust jackets, physical characteristics of books that draw collectors, great mystery books and more, and I came away with several recommendations for new books to check out.
He is adamant about the importance of bookstores in a community, too. “Bookstores are where you come for knowledge,” he declares. “We’re very passionate about reading, and propagating the idea that reading is very, very important for the community.” Mr. Lyons is just as enthusiastic about receiving new knowledge as he is about spreading it, though.
“I’m always happy to learn about a new author. I think I know something about an author, or a particular subject, and then there’s somebody out there who knows infinitely more than you do. That’s a lot of fun, for me,” he says. “I try and read different things; different genres, because you have to grow as a reader. Now do I like science fiction? Usually not. But I read it. There’s some darn good science fiction.”
If you’d like to connect with a fellow bibliophile, brainstorm new literature to try, or add to (or start!) your own fine books collection, swing by Lyons Fine Books in Neenah. The bookstore website features a quote by bookstore owner Joe De Salvo that says, “Book collecting is a disease, the final stages, of which is opening your own bookstore.” I think most of us would agree that he is living the dream–in Mr. Lyons’ own words, “I read two to three books a week; that’s [my] job. Darn, what a heck of a job.”
“Book collecting! First editions and best editions; old books and new books – the ones you like and want to have around you. Thousands of ’em. I’ve had more honest satisfaction and happiness collecting books than anything else I’ve ever done in life.” ― Peter Ruber,
—By Katie Nelson