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. 

Sam and Todd Dickinson at the Bull's Head pub, Lititz, PA

Sam and Todd Dickinson at the Bull’s Head pub, Lititz, PA

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.

Holding the two books I pre-ordered and then picked up at Aaron's Books.

Holding the two books I pre-ordered and then picked up at Aaron’s Books.

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.

The interior of the store. Granddaughters Julia and Lydia are enjoying the books they picked.

The interior of the store. Granddaughters Julia and Lydia are enjoying the books they picked.

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.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Schroeder on September 2, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    This post brought back some great memories, Shirley! My first job after high school was at Christian Press, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The bookstore (German and English books) was on the main floor) and the printing press (printing the MB Herald and the Mennonitische Rundschau) was downstairs. I was far away from home and staying with relatives I was not fond of. That job was my life! The bookstore manager was a kind man with a great sense of humour and the other bookstore clerk and I became good friends. The women who worked downstairs in the printing press took me under their wing and one of them found a room for me to rent across the street from where she lived. I spent Saturdays at her house and my loneliness greatly diminished! I worked there four years (one year part-time when I entered college).

    • Shirley Showalter on September 3, 2021 at 10:49 am

      Wow, Elfrieda, what a bookstore story. You must have grown up fast in that environment. So glad it gave you life and protective surrogate mothers. I hope you have written in even more detail about this time period in your life. Do you have photos? This place obviously set you on a path of lifelong learning and lifelong love of books! Thanks for starting us off.

  2. Marian Beaman on September 3, 2021 at 7:48 am

    What a pleasant surprise to see Aaron’s Books showcased here. Inside and out, the store is familiar to me: I did a book-signing there during my book tour with Mennonite Daughter, which you have read about here:

    I was intrigued that the bookstore was named for Todd and Sam’s son Aaron, a hint at legacy, I suppose. Several of my friends from E-town High attended the signing in 2019, and also a previous owner of your childhood home, Forgotten Seasons.

    At home in Florida, I’ve had two book signings at San Marco books. My book is also available at The Book Mark, both indie bookstores. I do know that with my penchant for acquiring books, I’ll have to pass them on; otherwise, I have a build-up again like in our Killarney home. I believe you too are living your dream, re-discovering the new in your childhood hometown.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 3, 2021 at 11:10 am

      Oh great, Marian, a genuine customer/author for Aaron’s Books testifies! You are lucky also to have San Marco books close by. your home also. Bookstores are an author’s best friend. We must treat them well.

      Yes, I feel like I am living my dream. But it stayed submerged all of my life until I heard about Warwick Woodlands. That’s the crazy thing about dreams. They can call you at any age.

  3. Maren C. Tirabassi on September 3, 2021 at 10:11 am

    I have always been a bookshop hunter and haunter. And, after I started publishing books, it was always the small stores that were generous with readings and signings, even when they were clearly religious-oriented like “Caring for Ourselves while Caring for our Elders,” or even liturgical texts. Always said ‘yes’. Open loving and caring. Like Todd and Sam, Don and I met in Washington, when he was managing the shortest run of a Broadway show in the Nationals Theatre’s history and I was room clerking (what do you do with a philosophy degree?) at the hotel where the witnesses stayed for the Watergate hearings. I am trying to remember names of Georgetown bookstores from those days, but, though I can visualize them, the names are gone. Lucky enough now to have 4 independents from a 20 minute walk to a 20 minute drive. (hope I can remember this post when my cozy comes out in the spring , so I can ask whether they will carry it) Thanks for supporting the little bookstores that are survivors in spite of the One-who-shall-not-be-named.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 3, 2021 at 11:18 am

      Ooh, what a fascinating glimpse into your life, Maren. Are any of your books memoirs? And you have written a cozy??!! I will have to tell Sam. I would be delighted if you gave a reading and could come in person. I would love to meet you. My co-written book has a tentative pub date of May 3. When is yours?

      Sam has seeded interest among readers here. And guess what? I never heard of a cozy until Wednesday. You live in either Massachusetts or New Hampshire, right? I can”t imagine so many independent bookstores close by. Lancaster County, PA, is a very large county, and Aaron’s Books is the ONLY independent bookstore within its boundaries.

      Speaking of the unmentionable, I saw a great meme online and then promptly forgot it. It had something to do with not buying books from a guy headed to space, but of course I’ve forgotten the punchline. Trust me, it was really funny. 🙂

  4. Carol Bodensteiner on September 3, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    Indie book stores have always been great to me as a mostly indie author. Once we had three indie bookstores in Des Moines, but only one survives and thrives. Beaverdale Books and its owner Alice have been huge champions of local authors. I’ve launched three of my books there with great success. I love the cozy environment, the broad selection, and the friendly staff who know their inventory so well. They survived COVID with an active curbside deliver option. In addition, they set up home delivery if you needed it. Many made a special point of buying and ordering though Beaverdale Books during COVID because we value having such a local resource.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 6, 2021 at 2:46 pm

      Carol, you are a great example of a loyal customer and local author who finds reciprocal benefit in supporting your local indie bookstore. I also have fond memories of another occasion, in Iowa City, when we gave a joint reading at the famous, and independent, Prairie Lights Bookstore.

      I’m so glad to hear that creative services and loyal supporters kept Beaverdale Books alive during the pandemic.

  5. Steven Rutt on September 3, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Nice story! Thanks for digging in and putting it together. I try to split my book shopping between small bookstores, large bookstores, and electronic. They each have advantages in what I value for a particular need. Fun to hear the stories of the small stores. Did you get a chance to attend the HippoCamp Lancaster writers conference you had mentioned? Curious to hear your thoughts on the conference….

    • Shirley Showalter on September 6, 2021 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks for chiming in here, Steven. Sounds like you have a good system for ordering all the varied kinds of books on your list.

      I did go to HippoCamp. I also had house guests at the time so I haven’t had a chance to do a summary blog post on it. I’m not sure I will. There was a lot to absorb. But it was very good. I think I’ll go again next year just because it’s so convenient and because it was so friendly. It would be wonderful to go in a non-Covid time. Though it was very impressive how everyone took care of everyone else by masking.

  6. Judith A Valente on September 6, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Wonderful, positive story. So glad Aaron’s made it thru the pandemic. There is a bookstore in Chicago called Women and Children First which is independent and does a great deal to promote authors. I launched all of my previous books there. I also love The Book Cellar in Chicago. Where I live now in central Illinois there is only Barnes and Noble. The Borders store closed years ago, as did the one independent bookseller. I try to direct people as much as I can to the indie stores and when they ask about buying my books.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 7, 2021 at 8:10 am

      Judith, thanks for offering these wonderful connections. I have been to Women and Children First when we lived in Indiana and made Chicago our urban weekend getaway. I have never heard of the Book Cellar, but will keep on my Chicago list, since we can get a direct flight to Chicago from our closest airport in Harrisburg. I’m surprised Urbana-Champaign doesn’t have an indie bookstore, but I hope the university bookstore sells books. Merch seems to be taking many of those stores over.Thanks for mentioning too. An excellent resource.

  7. Laurie Buchanan on September 15, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Shirley — This wonderful post brought to mind a quote from the book, The Little Paris Bookshop: “It is a common misconception that booksellers look after books. They look after people.” — much like Sam and Todd Dickinson of Aaron’s Books.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2021 at 9:20 am

      How delightful! I wonder if Sam and Todd know this quote. I’ll ask them. Thanks, Laurie.

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