We’re celebrating our 20 years of independence by highlighting a different indie bookstore that we love every month for a year! This month, we’re featuring the wonderful Ebenezer Books at 2 Lower Main Street in tiny Johnson, Vermont. They first caught our eye because of their prolific and eclectic zine orders.
We asked Ebenezer’s owner, JJ Indeliclae, a bunch of questions and she sent a bunch of photos, including one of the rack right inside their front door that features a ton of the zines we distribute and publish, as well as the American Quran, which she says she added to her front display in solidarity after someone freaked out about it being on display in another Vermont store.
1. What’s the story of Ebenezer’s? I also have to ask about the store’s name… did it come from a grizzled old New England settler, or is it about a ghost of Christmas?
Neither, actually: I named Ebenezer Books after my dog, Ezer. “Ebenezer” is most commonly translated from Hebrew as “place of refuge,” or, more literally, “stone of help.” For me, bookstores have always been both. My Ezer deserves some of the credit for landing me here in rural northern Vermont. (He is a bit grizzled now, almost fourteen… and there is an Ebenezer Road nearby, so there may well have been an old New England settler by that name. The Dickens reference is pretty slant.)
I bought the store in 2008, just weeks before the recession hit. Ebenezer Books is a true brick-and-mortar, inhabiting a 100-year-old bank building. The founding bookseller on this site, Stacey Burke, restored the original tin ceilings and created a beautiful space for books (in 1998).
2. You sell some of the books we publish, and you also buy zines that we distribute! At this exact moment, what is your favorite Microcosm book, your favorite non-Microcosm book, and the zine that stuck in your head the most in the last year?
Yes! We are thrilled to carry Microcosm zines and books. It’s an almost-daily pleasure to watch people discover zines; I’m continually surprised how many of our customers are discovering them here for the first time. (“Excuse me… what are these little books?”)
It’s tough to pick a favorite Microcosm book! Hot Pants, maybe. Or J. Gerlach’s Simple History series. I’m a longtime fan of Ayun Halliday, so I enjoy recommending her Zinester’s Guide to NYC. My current favorite non-Microcosm book is forthcoming in May: Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. The zine that stuck in my head the most from the past year? There are so many contenders that I’m going to pick the title that first struck me from another store’s zine rack: We’ll Never Have Paris. I’m partial to literary collections.
3. Your bookstore is small but mighty—how would you describe your customers? What keeps you going?
Johnson is a small town, but it is the home of the Vermont Studio Center, the country’s largest residency program for writers and visual artists. They draw people active in the literary community from all over, so many of our customers come from far afield. Consequently we are able to maintain a rich and deep selection of books, especially in poetry and literary fiction. We serve our neighboring towns and are pleased to have customers in an increasing radius from Johnson. Some of our seasonal traffic comes from neighboring ski resorts, and many people also come through town on road trips to view fall foliage. Bookselling is definitely a labor of love. Our best customers share our veneration for the physical book, and their loyalty is a force.
4. What do you glimpse in your crystal ball for the future of books?
I have to believe that there are enough people who care about cultural literacy to continue to buy books, and to buy them from independent channels. I’m encouraged by the resurgence of independent bookstores very recently, though this national trend has yet to buoy us much, as bookstores in particular depend on a political awareness that is still evolving. Book industry upheavals are not yet played out. My hope is that more and more small independent bookstores will thrive, and in turn support small publishers such as yours: especially the ones that care about literary and production quality.
This has been an interview with JJ Indeliclae, owner of Ebenezer Books in Johnson, VT! Be sure to pay them a visit when you’re next up that way, and support your local indie bookstores in the meantime!