How many people living in a big city dream of getting away from it all, moving to a small town, and setting up a shop?
How many harried professionals wish they could buy books, read books, and talk to customers every day?
How many parents of young children wish they could go into a family business that their child could enjoy and even participate in?
I’m guessing many of us have allowed a few fantasies like these.
But for Sam Droke-Dickinson and Todd Dickinson, this is their life. They did all of the above.
I recently sat down with Sam and Todd, at the Bulls Head Public House, to talk about their store, Aaron’s Books, which is celebrating fifteen years of being “fiercely independent.” Outside us on the street, the pouring rain. Inside, the dark wooden pub decor complete with fireplace. It might have been a scene from one of the cozy mysteries Sam loves. Fortunately, there were no dead bodies. Ah, but there were stories.
What is the origin story of Aaron’s books, I asked.
We started with childhood, my favorite time of life (next to the jubilación time I’m living in now). Both Sam’s parents and Todd’s parents moved often when they were growing up. Sam was a self-described “Army brat,” and Todd’s father was a Methodist minister who was usually called by a new congregation every three or so years. Both of them went to college, Sam in theater, and Todd in political science, before settling into their first jobs in the greater Washington, DC, area.
How did they meet? Sam was staging a production of Twelfth Night for a community theater. Todd showed up to participate, and soon they were sharing more than their love of Shakespeare.
After marriage, they continued to cobble together interesting work related at least tangentially to their majors in college. Sam worked at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre for awhile and Todd worked as an aide on capitol hill and later as a lobbyist in the area of medical research. When their son Aaron came along, they were both pulled in many directions. Complicating their lives was the traffic, cost of living, and long commutes in the DC area. “We often had fourteen hours a day of not seeing each other.” Eventually, they decided to leave.
But then, where to go? And what to do? Sam had fostered the idea of opening a shop, and since both of them loved to read, a book shop was a natural choice. They chose Lititz because they heard good things about it, knew that retail flourished there. (Perhaps more importantly, Lititz was equidistant from two sets of grandparents for whom Aaron was their only grandchild!) They thought the community was strong enough and literate enough to support a book store. It turns out they were right. They set up a used book shop on Broad St. in the building that now houses Olio, right next to Dosie Dough coffee shop. After a few years, they outgrew that property, added new books to their inventory, and moved into their present 1700 square foot space on 35 E. Main St. What did they call it? Why Aaron’s Books, of course. Aaron was a boy then. Today he is a college student.
I knew the first time I entered Aaron’s books in 2012 that I had been in this space before.
Sure enough, when I inquired, I learned that it had been the Hershey Shoe Store in the 1950s and 1960s.
I loved that store! Every year I got my new leather school shoes there. Saddle shoes for at least the first two years and later Keds.
I’m on the hunt for an old photo to confirm my memory.
No wonder I love Lititz now. I have so many memories of precious places from my childhood.
But back to Sam and Todd. They weathered Covid last year by focusing more on online sales. Soon they will be improving the lighting in the store, taking it from bright white florescent lights to softer, warmer light easier on the eyes. Cozy light.
One of the reasons Sam and Todd wanted to own a bookstore stems from their desire to grow their roots deep in one place, as opposed to the many changes of their childhoods. They have thrown themselves into service for and with the community, serving on boards and participating in the many shows and fairs the town puts on. The secret to any town’s success (or any business, organization, or family) is good leadership and communication. The town of Lititz thrives because people like these two shop owners offer their talents and hearts to a place.
When you buy something at Aaron’s (I hope you will!), you’ll get a bag with this message on it:
I’ve decided to embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly, now that I live so close to Aaron’s Books. I have felt guilty giving so much business to an unnamed megalith retailer. I hope to shop locally for as many special occasions as possible. As a bonus, I’ll get my exercise at the same time. A roundtrip to downtown from the Moravian Church through the Lititz Springs Park and home again to Warwick Woodlands is about 10,000 steps. Just right!
At the end of our chat, Sam and Todd and I began to brainstorm about how we might work together to plan for a new book launch. They were wonderful partners back in 2013 when Blush was published and we launched at Lititz Mennonite Church, the setting for many of my childhood memories. We have nine months to go to find another great venue and plan for a way to offer value to all the dear readers, friends, and family we hope will come.
Do you have a bookstore where you live? What do you love (or not love) about it? Have you ever dreamed of opening your own shop? Do you shop local? Pick a question and tell a story.