On a Friday afternoon at Serendipity Books, soft jazz music plays over the speakers, and strands of twinkling white lights accent rows of neatly shelved used books as Lucy Jimison-Silverio leads a tour of her cozy shop. Since buying the store three years ago from Louis “Corky” Dreyer–who’d opened it in 1985–she’s shifted from a romance-heavy inventory to a more eclectic selection. There’s now a large section of book award winners, including Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award selections; a bookshelf featuring “Lives of Famous Authors”; a section on favorite book club picks; a nook dedicated to children’s books; and even a “True Adventure” section designed to grab the attention of the reluctant male reader–near a couple of comfy reading chairs–with titles like Seabiscuit and Into the Wild. Most books are half the cover price, and a 20 percent credit for used book donations can be used toward half of a store purchase. Buying books this way is “not a big moneymaker, and I don’t care–it pays for itself and still gives us a little bit,” Jimison-Silverio says.
Jimison-Silverio and co-owner Michelle Tuplin also are adding handcrafted Indian merchandise to the store’s offerings. Jimison-Silverio met Ojas Akolkar at her Detroit pop-up store, Tribalfare, and invited her to sell her imported shawls, scarves, skirts, jewelry, and paper products at Serendipity. “She just returned from Mumbai, and she meets each of the merchants she buys from and ensures they are making a good living,” Jimison-Silverio explains.
Jimison-Silverio first came to Chelsea from Ohio when her husband was studying for his PhD (he now works in IT at U-M). She was an occasional customer of Dreyer’s and says she hinted to him that she’d like to buy the shop. “I knew there were things I could do to make the business better,” she says.
People who’d read that bookstores are dying questioned her purchase: “My brother says, ‘That’s just like Lucy–the minute the Model T comes off the line, Lucy runs out and buys a [horse] stable,'” she laughs. But she describes herself as a “book addict” who was a “flashlight-under-the-blanket reader” as a kid. She worked in libraries, had her own handywoman business, and most recently was a newspaper reporter for the local Sun Times News. “Each book is a journey to me, and so are the people,” she explains. “It’s beautiful to meet people.”
Dreyer, who still lives in Chelsea, an avid sailor, had named the store after his boat, Serendipity, and Jimison-Silverio thinks it’s apt. “I often imagine I work in a port, and I take people to discover their beautiful boat–their own book,” she explains. “People who read books tend to be wonderful people and thinkers.”
Both women live down the street from the shop and walk or bike to work. Tuplin recalls how they met when Jimison-Silverio was homeschooling her two children, who are now grown. Tuplin’s kids would “splash in the puddles in their Wellies” up and down the sidewalk in front of her house, Tuplin says. One day the moms got together for tea, and a friendship was born.
Tuplin, whose three children are still at home, hails from England and lived in the D.C. area with her husband, and worked for PBS and the National Gallery of Art before moving to Chelsea. She says she brings a “slightly different perspective” to bookselling “because I grew up reading Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.” She calls the job “really idyllic.” When it’s not busy, she works on writing a WWII-era historical novel and listens to opera. Jimison-Silverio enjoys catching up on her reading or playing chess.
Today, the round wooden table in the back of the room is set up for a game of checkers. A handwritten note next to two hand-painted tea cups reads, “Fancy a cup a tea? Just ask!” Tuplin’s created a bulletin board display called “Forgotten Treasures Rescued from Our Books.” A collage of finds includes a prayer card, a telegram, a snapshot of what looks to be a smiling grandmother and grandchild, a pantyhose coupon, and a note addressed to “Chicken,” exclaiming “I loved this book!”
Both women enjoy using their creativity on the job. Jimison-Silverio has used the brick alleyway between buildings to host music and dance performances–and someday hopes to host some “Shakespearean alley scenes” there as well.
Serendipity Books, 113 W. Middle, Chelsea, 475-7148. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sun. and Mon. Extended summer hours for Sights & Sounds and some other festivals.