It has always perplexed me that a person could live in an area for years and never experience everything it has to offer. I would hear people who lived only a few miles from a state or national park, a museum, or any other of the multitude of sites found in any city/state, yet they had never been there. This was a characteristic of human nature that completely evaded me, that is until I found myself doing the exact same thing.
To make a long story short; my wife and I moved to Wheeling four years ago. Amid busy work and school schedules, the birth of our son and our wedding, the adventure of it all turned into familiar restaurants and family activities that could include our son. That’s not to say we never ventured outside our comfort zones, we had to make sure everything was child friendly.
Now that our son has turned three we have began looking around for more and more activities to get all of us back into the world around us. This past weekend we ventured out to a local ‘legend’ that I have taken verbal abuse for three years at work for not having tried Coleman’s Fish Market. The fish market was decent, but the surrounding “Center Market” district was a city blocks worth of treasure. Antique stores, an art store that allows you and your children to pay a small fee in order to paint sculptures or canvases, a science store with a Megalodon jaw, and, the most unique treasure, The Paradox Book Store.
On the surface this may seem like any other book store you can see in any number of cities around the world. From our seat during lunch I spied the store and immediately thought about the possible hidden treasures, particularly the older prints of The Odyssey or The Divine Comedy that I have been coveting for quite some time.
Upon entering I was greeted by a scene that brought out both horror and a certain childlike giddiness. I realized when I decided to write a blog post about this store that I would never find the words to truly convey the disarray I found inside:
After you take a moment to go through the gambit of horror, disgust, humor and confusion, do not jump to the conclusion that the proprietor of this store is anything less than a lover of literature. I wasn’t sure myself what to make of the store, and sadly enough was left empty handed in my search for my books. However, there are plenty of treasures to find in this store.
We have wanted to start collecting older books for our son so that we can begin reading to him, a little dad bragging but he already is reading 1st and 2nd level books by himself. Of course we have some of the Harry Potter books and a few other newer stories, but we are always on the lookout for stories that we loved growing up. My wife, through much digging, found a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and a copy each of Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I have not dated the two but judging by the cover I would guess 1940-1950.
After we finished our transaction and our son had touched every book on every shelf I began talking to owner Tom Stobart a little about his store. He was very open to my questions and had a few things to tell me a few things about the place. Tom himself opened the doors in 1974, making it the oldest operating book store of its kind in West Virginia. His love of books was apparent early into our conversation, and was even nice enough to inquire about my work when I informed him about my blog and my aspiring authorship.
A way to tactfully inquire about the complete lack of organization danced around in my head, but nothing could come to mind and Mr. Stobart was the kind of man who lived for his store so I felt the question would come as an unintended insult. Instead I asked about his antique cash register, and the answer to my first question was given to me in the form of a book mark.
“no phone, no fax, no e-mail, irregular hours, indifferent service, inexplicable categorization, narrow aisles, murky lighting, breath-taking selection, dumbfounding prices & NO DAMN CAT”
This is the stores ‘motto’ written on the bookmark he had given me. We shared a laugh at the complete ‘nail on the head’ description he had chosen for his store and I thanked him for his time and that was our brief interview.
One point I wanted to express is the pure love for literature Mr. Stobart possesses. The books, not including any rarities he may have, are amazingly priced. For the mentioned books above and a hardcover copy of Shadowland by Alyson Noel we paid a meager $4.80 after taxes. In fact, all of the books on the shelves are a dollar for a paper back and a dollar fifty for hardcovers.
The last service this store offers, that I feel is the most notable is an honor system that I never knew could still exist. If you look again at the first photo in this post you’ll notice books sitting on the steps and a bookshelf. These books all cost $0.50 a piece, and there are some great titles. This bookshelf, and books, are left outside at all times with a sign that gives the price and a twist. If anyone comes to the store after hours, they are given permission to take the book and pay him at a later date. It also goes a step further and tells anyone who is hard up and can not afford the $0.50 that they can borrow the books and simply bring them back when they’re finished.
That last bit really sent it home for me and it is the reason that Mr. Stobart owns the oldest operating book store in West Virginia; he puts the books, and those that want to read them at the top of his priority list. We will definitely be, regularly, revisiting The Paradox Book Store and continue to discover what wonders could be found at this hidden treasure of West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.