I met up with Santa Claus in the fiction section of R J Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. This was a few years’ back, the weekend of Thanksgiving and I was on my way home to Massachusetts after visiting my parents in Bridgeport. My timing was perfect because Ol’ St. Nick was making his rounds to find out who among us bibliophiles had been naughty or nice. He regaled us with Ho! Ho! Ho’s! and chimes from jingle bells he clutched in his fist.
Santa was accompanied by an elf—of course—and continued to the other shops, boutiques, and eateries that make up the quaint and charming Madison Center. Once I tamped down my regret at not having my Christmas list with me, I was tantalized by the aroma of the grilled lobster and cheese sandwiches being prepared in the R J Café and Bistro in the back of the bookstore. Taking a peek, I was impressed by the array of fresh baked goods in the display counter and steaming, made-from-scratch soup choices. I would have stopped in for a bite but every table was taken.
I always find unique gifts there that impress friends and family. The layout and architecture, the nooks and crannies, the freshly polished wooden banisters and mouldings remind me of the hallowed halls of an Ivy League university. I look forward to the store operating once again at full service once the pandemic is gotten under control.
The calendar of events is always packed. Along the wall near the gift shop, is what I call “The Wall of Fame,” autographed head shots of well-renowned authors who’ve spoken at book parties, panel discussions, and author readings on the store’s stage. For close to a decade, every time I’d visit R J Julia, I’d imagine my photo up there with the others. I’d make a point to stand on the stage and fantasize that I was giving a reading to the crowd of shoppers. My daydreaming may not have been that far-fetched, now that The Talking Drum is close to publication. On a recent visit I inquired about speaking there and a store manager gave me a form to fill out with my book’s information. He said R J Julia champions area authors published by small presses. Periodically they will host a panel of small press authors.
R J Julia is more than a bookstore. It’s an experience. The closest thing to a vacation that isn’t actually a vacation. It’s a charming slice of quaint New England that I treat myself to whenever I have a chance.
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