Few things stir the imagination of book lovers more than the unmistakeable scent of books. The crisp essence of possibility juxtaposed with the familiarity of past adventures. This is the smell that greets customers the moment they enter Farley’s Bookshop. Gone is the antiseptic feel of corporate giants.
Perfectly organized shelves and spacious aisles? No, thank you.
An attached cafe where one can sip lattes while posturing? Nope.
With narrow aisles and shelves of varying height bursting with books, Farley’s is a book lover’s paradise. A venerable warren of undiscovered treasures. The vibe here, the aesthetic, is more Cape Cod summer home than a place of business. And like rooms of a house, each one here is themed. The back room, for example, the one dedicated to children’s books and YA fiction, looks like it was decorated by kids, for kids. Another room is dedicated to books on history, political science and nature. There’s an entire room for discounted books. In the main area—where the living room would be—new releases and best sellers are displayed alongside cult favorites. Stephen King sits beside Jack Kerouac; James Patterson next to Chuck Palahniuk (whose autographed banana balloon hovers above it all).
But what truly separates Farley’s from other independent bookstores, what solidifies their indie ethos, is their vast selection of titles by small presses, independent authors and poets. It isn’t unusual to find area authors set up outside, signing books. This isn’t so much a bookshop as it is a local institution, a cultural staple. A community within a community.
Nestled in the heart of New Hope, a suburb of Philadelphia long known as a bastion of counterculture, Farley’s was founded in 1967 by Jim Farley—with a little financial help from Fred Rogers (yes, Mr. Rogers), who he had befriended at the seminary. A few months later, a school teacher named Nancy Stitchberry visited the bookshop. She and Farley fell in love, married and started a family. They eventually passed the torch to their daughters, Jenn and Rebekah.
As the store closes in on its 50th anniversary, I sat down with Jenn Farley to discuss literature, the ebb and flow of book-selling trends, and what it takes to develop a loyal customer base. The word family came up quite a bit.
“Most of our employees are lifers,” she said with a wry grin. “Julian has been with us since I was a teenager. Buffy, Charli, and Mike have each been here more than ten years. Christina and Josh, long time.” When I asked what that was like, balancing friendships and business, she said, “We laugh, we fight, we love one another. We’re family. One big dysfunctional family.”
And, really, what family is complete without a pet?
Ask anyone in the area about Farley’s, and invariably, they will mention Butter. He’s the family cat. The store mascot. He can usually be found napping somewhere in the aisles.
Customers are greeted warmly by an exceedingly knowledgeable staff. A cursory conversation with anyone behind the counter can easily turn into an in-depth literary exchange. The good folks at Farley’s know books. Both William Hastings and Josh Myers are published authors.
In an era where Amazon has caused many independent bookshops to fold, Jenn Farley is confident in the store’s ability to exist, and even thrive, in a tourist-driven town. Apart from the revenue generated by out-of-town visitors, Farley’s has cultivated a loyal local customer base.
“Other than that,” Farley said, “we try to be creative. We sometimes partner with either Bucks County Playhouse or one of the local schools to host large-scale book signings. That’s how we brought in Jeff Kinney (author of the New York Times Best Seller Diary of a Wimpy Kid). We were able to sell four-hundred copies in a day.”
Doing the math in my head, I suggested that the event was a success.
A warm smile spread across her face. She adjusted her glasses. “I love the feeling of putting a book in a kid’s hand.”
Originally published by Independent Books