The Kenyon Bookstore isn’t the only place to go to build your library. Just a few blocks south of the public square in downtown Mount Vernon stands Paragraphs Bookstore. With its community-oriented approach, Paragraphs has been the go-to spot for Mount Vernon’s book lovers since it opened in 1996.
Paragraphs has mastered the art of the local independent bookstore. In the front left corner is a little coffee station with a sign that says “Pay as you like — donations welcomed!” Just past that is a shelf of staff picks with notes written by one of the employees. And if they enter at the right time, customers might come across one of the shop’s monthly book clubs, bi-monthly readings of children’s stories or local authors’ readings and signings.
“Community is extremely important to us,” Kami Diehl, an assistant manager, said.
Paragraphs fits into the recent national trend of thriving independent bookstores — the American Booksellers Association even has a page on its website linking to all the recent news stories profiling independent bookstores that are enjoying great success. Unlike the struggling superstores, independent bookstores like Paragraphs have eschewed the mass retail approach for one that is more reader-focused, and encourages shoppers to browse and ask for recommendations.
One of the ways Paragraphs has been able to engage with the community is through its partnership with the Kenyon Review. Every Wednesday and Saturday at Paragraphs, student associates from the Kenyon Review volunteer to teach a creative writing workshop to children in elementary and middle school. Only a few years old, the program has become a big success. “We had so many sign-ups we had to cut off registration,” Diehl said.
The lessons usually begin with a free write, after which the children in the workshop read and write poetry and prose.
“It’s this process of emulating famous pieces of work and trying to get the kids to start thinking critically about literature so they can create their own,” said Natalie Keller ’19, who is the Kenyon Review Outreach Intern in charge of coordinating the program.
Mount Vernon children aren’t the only ones benefiting from the partnership. “I feel like kids just have a whole world inside their heads, and it’s really cool to take a peek at it,” Keller said.
Looking at the brightly colored children’s section of Paragraphs, one can see the shop’s commitment to engaging young readers. Paragraphs’ staff consists of former teachers, elementary school librarians and a children’s book illustrator. Before working for Paragraphs, Diehl taught for three years at Wiggin Street Elementary School in Gambier and for five years at East Elementary in Mount Vernon.
“A lot of us, our hearts are with the kids,” Diehl said.
But Paragraphs doesn’t limit itself to just one audience. The offerings range from fiction to nonfiction, from young adult to classics. There is even a shelf of local writing: local authors, local history and local travel. The variety of books is joined by other merchandise characteristic of some independent bookstores, like mugs with literary references and calendars of cute animals.
The Paragraphs staff hopes to carry on an independent bookstore tradition in Mount Vernon. “Getting the right book into people’s hands, that’s my favorite thing,” Diehl asid.
The shop is a cherished spot for many of Mount Vernon’s avid readers. As the shuttle driver, Quenton, told this Collegian reporter on the way into town, “That place is like a candy store to me.”
Paragraphs is located at 229 South Main Street, Mount Vernon. Opening hours are weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.