Open Books

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A bookstore is more than just a place to buy a book. It can be a place to make friends, start a book club, and meet local authors — at least that’s the case when you visit one of these local bookstores.

Martha Medina owns J’aime Les Vivres (which translates to “I love books”), a used bookstore in McAllen housed in a 100-year-old home. It’s been open for nine years and carries a wide variety of books to suit every reader.

“I believe we should be open to all genres, so I do have just about everything even if I don’t read it,” she said. “I know people who do, so there’s no judgment here.”

Medina also encourages people to check out her store if they’re looking for an older book that might be out of print, because rather than ordering it at full-price, they might find it at J’aime Les Vivres.

“Another thing I really try to do is have a lot of the required reading for high school students because it’s less expensive for them to buy from me,” she said.

While the main purpose of the shop is to promote literacy, Medina said she finds that it serves another purpose: connecting people.

J’aime Les Vivres regularly hosts events, inviting local vendors and authors to showcase their works — all in an effort to get the community to “shop small” and support local businesses. Recently, she began offering painting classes taught by an experienced instructor and close friend of the shop.

“Even if you’re not going to read, you should come to our painting sessions,” Medina said. “Just this environment, being able to paint with others, I think is good therapy and it feels good. It’s part of the arts — reading, painting, drawing. I think it all meshes.”

Also in McAllen, just a few miles away, is Books-N-Things, a trade bookstore dating back to the ’90s. Florence Chapa bought the store just over a decade ago to keep it from closing and to provide a space where parents can visit with their children to introduce them to the world of reading.

“When children read, they tend to have incredible vocabularies,” she said. “When you’re reading a book, you’re watching how the author took the information and put it together to tell a story. It transcends to what you do in life.”

One way she’s kept the store in operation is through utilizing social media. Whenever the store receives a new book, Chapa takes a photo and posts it on Facebook and Instagram to alert potential customers of what’s in stock.

She also said business at the store is picking up due to the increasing rarity of physical copies of books.

“People have always read, but young people are now wanting to get their hands on a book because they’re seeing less and less of it,” she said. “The school is going to computers for teaching, which means they’re not seeing books. So we have a generation starving for books.”

An advantage she sees Books-N-Things having over national bookstores is that it tries to carry the complete works of an author.

“If you’re interested in, say, Janet Evanovich, and wanted to buy one of her first books, you wouldn’t find it at Barnes and Noble,” Chapa said. “They’ll have her last two books and that’s it. So you won’t be able to find it unless you go online and look everywhere. Or you can walk into a bookstore like this and Evanovich goes on and on.”

She adds her store is also a better alternative for dedicated readers who read as much as she does, which is an average of six books a week.

Customers can bring in their books to trade and receive a credit. When it comes time to pay for the new books they’ve selected, the credit covers half the bill.

Books-N-Things has a second location in Harlingen.

Paragraphs on Padre, located on South Padre Island, sells both new and used books.

After coming down to South Texas for years as a Winter Texan, and after finding the “right” piece of property, Joni Montover decided to move permanently to South Padre Island and open a bookstore.

Montover said she considers her offerings “general interest,” but curates the selection seasonally based on tourists — who, she added, make up the majority of the clientele, apart from her loyal customers from Brownsville, Harlingen, and SPI.

“In summer, we get a lot of people from Austin and San Antonio looking for more literary things,” Montover said. “And in the winter time we have Winter Texans, so we sell a lot of Spanish dictionaries.”

The shop also hosts a monthly book club and regular author visits, which she said can be a little challenging to plan for considering many people visit SPI to check out the beach and don’t necessarily think about dropping into a bookstore.

But despite the challenges, Montover finds the experience of operating a local bookstore rewarding.

“Probably the biggest compliment is when a customer comes in and says I picked out a really good book for her last year and asks if I can help her pick something out again,” she said. “I think that’s what independent bookstores can offer that maybe online stores or bigger stores can’t. We can actually put a book in someone’s hand.”

To find out when these bookstores are hosting their next event or sale, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

What is your favorite RGV bookstore? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.