September 13, 2017
Tucked beneath street level on the corner of 3rd and Fillmore you’ll find a 44-year-old literary oasis. The Hermitage Bookshop is one of Denver’s oldest independent bookstores. Its owner, Bob Topp, is respected not only for cultivating an immaculate collection, but dedicating a large portion of his time to reading aloud in public schools and creating a free online index of the best short stories for young adults. Here, he discusses how he keeps the longtime Cherry Creek North shop exciting for book lovers of all ages and his efforts to share his love of books with Denver youth and readers worldwide.
Who shops at The Hermitage Bookshop?
Bob: Everybody who loves reading. We have everybody from collectors who are looking for collectibles, readers, we have a wonderful children’s section. We have a lot of families coming in. We have just excellent selections in all the histories, the humanities, literature, fiction, poetry. Probably 20 percent of our stock would be collectible, signed first editions, or something else that would make it collectible, like the illustrator, perhaps.
You’ve been in Cherry Creek North since 1980. Why have you stayed here all this time?
Bob: Because I do well. This area seems to have a clientele that matches mine. That means we get a lot of people in who love books, love bookstores. It’s a nice match.
I understand you are a third generation book collector?
Bob: My grandfather was a wildcatter drilling oil wells out West during the turn of the century. He built up a large collection of Western Americana. When he passed away, part of the collection was donated to the University of Texas and the rest of the collection, my father started helping my grandmother value it. That got him interested in books and one of the professors he worked with liked English literature and that got my dad started collecting Victorian artifacts.
What books would I find on your nightstand right now?
Bob: Well, my reading is split between two different kinds of books. I read a fair amount of books on history and the history of ideas. There’s a limited amount of fiction that I like. The other half is young adult short stories. My hobby for twenty years has been reading aloud in public schools. I read to 13 classes from first through fifth grade.
You also created a wonderful free resource for parents and teachers. Tell me about Read Me A Story, Ink.
Bob: I’ve probably read and collected over 10,000 short stories. I maintain an index of the 1,500 I think are the best and they range from the late 19th century up to the present. It now has almost 100 printable stories as I contacted authors and got their permission to put them on this site. It includes about 20 of my recordings and has recommended reading lists for all different ages, with links to other sites.
I’d imagine you have a lot of fun “show-and-tell” items in a store like this…
Bob: Well, there are a lot of specific books which make fun show-and-tell. One of the things we really enjoy is when a young person who hasn’t experienced our bookstore says, “Oh I just loved The Cat in the Hat.” We pull out a first edition of The Cat in the Hat. It’s just wonderful to watch young people enjoy such a thing.
What are some of the misperceptions about independent bookstores?
Bob: I think some people assume our stock tends to be old and stagnant, but that’s the furthest from the truth in this store’s case. We probably buy two to three hundred books per week. So there’s always fresh material coming in. Many people think everything in a store like ours is old and arcane and only wanted by stuffy old scholars, which is not the case at all. Not every book is covered in gold and extremely expensive. We certainly have some expensive books, but three quarters of our stock is under $20. It’s really difficult for people who do nothing but go to new book stores to realize what a rich resource this is. If you stop to think about it, a new bookstore only has access to what’s in print and, typically, things have been staying in print for shorter and shorter periods of time.
How do you acquire your books?
Bob: A tremendous amount of books come to us. We probably have ten scouts who go to estate sales and anyplace to buy books, like library sales. They know what we’re looking for and they buy the best material and they bring it to me first. We get called into a lot of homes here in Denver because most of the people dealing in estates know that we’re going to pay more. Frequently we’ll get called into estates. Some of our higher end books we’ll buy at auctions.
Do you think you could convince someone who reads off a Kindle to shop in your store?
Those are two different reading experiences. The Kindle is wonderful on an airplane, or on a beach. You don’t have to lug books around. There is also something nice about holding a book, though. There is something about the physicality of it that is just warmer somehow. But, also, I think people realize that, especially if they grew up in a home with books, that books are part of a home environment. People like to see a nice vase on a table, or a nice piece of art on the wall. I think people are realizing that they may read on a Kindle, but a lot of them, at least, still like to see and own the book.
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