I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that was home to one of the greatest independent bookstores in the country. Conkey’s Book Store has been a fixture in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin for more than a hundred years.
This Friday is its last day.
Its closure can be blamed on a lot of different factors: the giant Barnes and Noble out by the mall. Amazon.com and the Kindle. The general decline of pleasure reading. Conkey’s loss of their contract with the local tech college.
When I found out that Conkey’s was closing a few months back, I was devastated. Conkey’s had been there for so long – it never occurred to me that it would close. That I’d no longer do my Christmas shopping there, or benefit from their always-spot-on staff recommendations. That I wouldn’t get to take my kids there and show them the place I loved so much when I was small.
Conkey’s is next door to Heid Music, another Appleton institution, where I took piano lessons for eight years. Every Wednesday, after my lesson, I went next door to Conkey’s. Sometimes, if I’d particularly impressed my piano teacher, my mom would buy me a book. Every week, I spent a half an hour or so sitting in the coffee shop. They used to serve SueAnn’s bagels at the Conkey’s coffee shop. SueAnn’s closed a few years ago, too. I still remember the thoroughly pierced-and-tattooed girl behind the counter: how cool I thought she was, how much I wanted her job. I think her name was Abby.
The coffee shop also sold greeting cards and assorted knick-knacks. I loved this stuff. Every year for my birthday, for Christmas, there was something on the list that could only be found at Conkey’s.
Conkey’s also threw the best Harry Potter parties. The store and coffee shop opened onto a back alley that, when decorated, bore a strong resemblance to Diagon Alley. Conkey’s had butterbeer and wands and live owls. The giant party in the mall food court, the huge crowds at Barnes and Noble: they paled in comparison.
Walking into Conkey’s was always like entering a magic shop, whether or not a sign reading “Ollivanders” was posted over the door. Bookshelves reached all the way up to the ceiling. There were rolling ladders and narrow corners and nooks and staircases.
I still haven’t totally accepted Conkey’s fate. I used to work for the Post-Crescent, the local newspaper, so I’ve always been a devoted reader. Lately, though, I spend more and more time scouring its website for news that someone has stepped up to buy the store.
It hasn’t happened.
I know that it won’t. Really, I do.
But I’m still waiting for the loss to sink in.