Featured Exhibitor: Walnut Street Paper
An endeavor that started with an inexpensive aged Mark Twain book at an antique store has transformed into a business with a diverse inventory of collectible books and ephemera.
That is the journey of a small, family-owned business, Walnut Street Paper, a bookstore in Kutztown, PA, co-owned by Alexis and George Sirrakos. Walnut Street Paper has an array of book selections that include Americana, 20th-century children’s literature, pop culture, poetry, and natural history.
"We both kind of went in blind. My husband and I just started going places." Alexis shares the beginning of their bookselling journey.
"And we were like, this is a well-known Mark Twain book. And it's old looking. So we'll just buy this cheap, you know, maybe we can sell it. We had no idea how the industry worked, like how to price books."
Alexis took the advice of the people around her and went to the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar to gain knowledge on bookselling and the rare book trade.
The magic of booksellers is that their individuality is reflected in their inventory. The curated selection of books is carefully chosen with immense thought.
“ There's always this draw for my husband and I to find books that have that sort of an interesting provenance." Alexis said.
“We have certain books that are inscribed to certain people, and then to know the story of why they inscribed that person, you know, based on their relationship, and finding out the history behind that is fascinating.
Alexis gleefully recounts the discovery of a New York City nursing archive from a woman that had been hospital superintendent for at least 25 years. The archive was filled with engrossing letters from doctors and beautiful photographs showing the unfamiliar intactness of a hospital building on Roosevelt Island that had long been abandoned for decades.
Alexis explains: "It's like her retirement book that she was given. Basically, all these doctors reached out and gave her $5 each, and there are 80 letters from doctors and other people that she worked with for 30 years.
"There used to be a smallpox hospital, and it became a nursing hospital. Now it is a historic place. But it's completely in ruins, essentially. It is cool to see these old photographs of this beautiful building we've never seen intact before."
This nursing archive is a treasure trove of medical history content and will be displayed at the Boston Rare Book and Ephemera Fair.
Alexis is also excited to display the full set of first-edition Andrew Lang fairy books.
"They are absolutely beautiful. We're hoping people will like them and buy them as a set. " Alexis said
One of the most fulfilling experiences Alexis has is when she sees that book buyers are equally as interested in the same books that she is as a bookseller.
She recounted the feeling of success when she sold an Edgar Allan Poe book she loved:
"We had this Edgar Allan Poe book that I was just in love with. The illustrations were glorious. Henry Clark was the illustrator. Anytime someone walked into the shop and even glanced in its direction, I'd be like,' Oh, my God, you have to get this book.'
"When that someone who loved Poe, and bought the book, it was a huge win for me."
That is exactly how we want all book fair guests to feel; buyers and exhibitors alike. We all gather for our love of books; the chance to attain a unique book feels like gold, and that feeling is magnified when you share it with a community.
Written by Samourra Rene in October, 2022.