When Bank Square Books, in Mystic, Connecticut, was up for sale in 2006, longtime fans—Annie Philbrick, Patience Banister, and Jane Hannon—combined resources, bought the general bookstore, and became booksellers. The town of Mystic, which had actively supported Bank Square since the late ’80s, affectionately dubbed the trio the three witches. Hannon has since returned to her former job, Banister retired (although remains a silent partner), and Philbrick—an American Booksellers Association board member and a fiction judge for this year’s Kirkus Prize—now runs the business and recently opened another store, Savoy Bookshop and Café, in Westerly, Rhode Island. We spoke with Philbrick about whales and lighthouses, “the church of reading,” and the “mirrors and windows” of children’s literature.
What is Bank Square Books famous for?
We are known as an anchor store in the Main Street area of Mystic, and we love to support our community. Anyone can walk in and ask any question, and they will get an answer with a smile. Sometimes they want a book recommendation, but other times they want to know where to eat lunch or dinner, what to do with the kids, or they want to rent a bike. We’re also known for our beautiful painted whale outside the store, designed by the illustrator and author Pamela Zagarenski.
If Bank Square were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
We are a church of reading, and our icon would be a book! Anyone is welcome to practice whatever faith they would like in our store and find books on all religions. Much like a church, we welcome people to use our space as a place for meditation and relaxation, to charge your batteries, and find community. Our revered saints include Wallace Stegner, Jesmyn Ward, Harper Lee, Khaled Hosseini, Zadie Smith, John Green, Bryan Stevenson, Rosemary Wells, and Jacqueline Woodson…and many, many more.
Please tell us about your recently opened second store, Savoy Bookshop & Café.
It’s a stunning 1920s-style store built in an old Savoy Hotel. The shop is 3,000 square feet and two floors, with soft lighting, leather seating, and a cozy café. The lower floor includes our children’s section with a secret kids’ room, and fairy houses are hidden throughout the store. The community has really embraced us, and the shop is thriving. We are thrilled to be in downtown Westerly.
Which was your favorite event and why?
A few years ago, we hosted an event with M.L. Stedman for The Light Between Oceans. In Mystic, we are surrounded by lighthouses, so we took a boat tour to the New London Ledge Light, and M.L. Stedman spoke at the front door of the lighthouse. That evening was one of those classic summer ones without a bit of wind, and the sunset over Fishers Island exploded in a burst of color.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
I asked our children’s book buyer, Kelsy April, to weigh in on this one. There is a term booksellers have started using called “Windows and Mirrors.” This term is slowly replacing the word “diverse” in hopes that people will start to recognize “diverse” as something that is a normal part of literature for young people. “Windows and Mirrors” suggests that kids not only deserve to see themselves represented in literature (mirrors), but they also deserve to see into other people’s lives (windows).
What is your ideal busman’s holiday?
Being alone on an island anywhere in the world reading.
Karen Schechner is the senior Indie editor.