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Stories Find New Life at Monroe St. Books

By Wendy Walcoff

You may have passed it by on your way to Burlington, or you might have turned the car and parked like we did. Monroe St. Books is an unabashed, yet not entirely flashy, used bookstore on Rt. 7 North, lined floor to ceiling with peeling paperbacks and once-loved hardcovers.

Upon entering the store, we find the owner squatted on a small stool amidst the children’s books. The lines on his forehead sit above his wide-rimmed glasses, and they crinkle together when he tells us of the vastness of his collection. They have 100,000 used books on display and 60,000 more in the back.

“People sometimes come in here and they have a panic attack – they have to lie down or leave,” store owner Dick Chodkowski says. “They can’t handle it because there’s too many books. They profess that they love books, but it’s just too much for them. It’s kind of sad. I always tell them to just concentrate on one area.”

He turns toward the rows of picture books before him, brushing his fingers against the bindings.

Chodkowski explains his store was a hobby that got out of control; he brushes much of his story aside and keeps his pages bound.
“It’s easy to collect books. There’s no end to the books. It’s finding the good books that’s tough,” Chodkowski says. Chodkowski and his wife, Flanzy, have spent hours upon hours with the books over the years, as they’ve built upon their collection. He takes pride in the variety of Monroe St.’s selection, with stacks of beekeepers’ guides, old mysteries and collections of poems.

“There’s a book for everyone,” he says. When we ask if he has a favorite, he furrows his brow, saying, “I don’t have a favorite; I can’t play favorites. They’re all my children.”

I ask if he can help me find what I’m looking for, the original Winnie the Pooh, one of a four-part collection I’ve been tracking down. He knows his shelves well and leads me directly to A.A. Milne, where the exact book sits, slightly dusted and waiting. Though the story and the copy are both well-used, there is a sense of newness as I claim it as my own. I slide it off the shelf with satisfaction, an act I’m sure Chodkowski has seen countless times. He thanks me, and turns back to his work.

With a story in every nook and cranny, the multitude of treasures in this bookstore gives increasing meaning to what lies within the bindings.

Leaving Monroe St. Books, the book I grip in my hand is more than merely what’s written on the pages; it is the whir of stories that have been opened and closed, passed down to new hands, and are ready to be lived again.

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