Among Manayunk’s hilly streets, the Spiral Bookcase thrives

Photo by Margo Reed

Photo by Margo Reed

Kooky and Calm

by Emily Kovach

Ann Tetreault has always been a book lover. Her parents—both teachers—would frequently stop to peruse bookshops with their children, and Tetreault became a book collector at a young age. She studied literature in college and got her master’s degree in folk studies, going on to work at the Library of Congress. So, when she and her husband moved to Manayunk in 2009, she immediately sought out the neighborhood bookshop, quickly realizing there was none to be found. “This is the perfect place for a used bookshop,” she says. “So we decided to be the ones to open one.”

In May of 2010, they found a vacant storefront for rent on Cotton Street, tucked beside a Regional Rail train overpass. Tetreault describes the location as “off the beaten path, but comfy.” She and her husband renovated it themselves and began cleaning out estate sales, amassing a collection to become the shop’s opening stock. The Spiral Bookcase had its soft opening during the Manayunk Arts Festival in late June 2010.

The store is modeled after traditional Irish and English bookshops: a homey hub for the community, a place where people come to unwind. “We want it to be well curated; a quaint, charming little shop,” she says. To achieve that cozy vibe, she set up a living room area with plush places to sit and read or chat, adopted a shop cat named Amelia, and committed to hosting poetry readings, open mics and other community events. During the recent StrEAT Food Festival in Manyunk—just outside the doors of the shop—revelers were listening to live bands. Inside, customers still quietly browsed the shelves.

While they keep new versions of classic and popular literature in stock, the shop sells mostly used books, specializing in fiction, folklore and what Tetreault calls “weird books”: titles about the occult, medical oddities, curious histories, tarot and astrology. “I’ve always loved the idea of a used bookstore because you don’t know what you’re going to find… you find treasures!” she says. “I want to offer that experience.”