5704 West Vliet Street Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53208
Hours of Operation: Wednesdays 3:30-8pm and Saturdays 9am-5pm
I pull up a small wooden stool and perch myself in front of the candy counter. There are 2 girls sitting in the window sorting books, maybe 11 and 12. In my quietest library voice, I lean over the counter and ask Marye Beth what they're doing. She explains that they're doing community service for some program they're in at school. Oh. "Ladies you can take a break in 20 minutes."
Marye Beth pushes a pile of Tootsie Rolls across the glass in my direction. "Have one. You know you want one. No? How about a Nut Roll?".
Because of the shop's limited hours, it quickly becomes a hive of activity. A father and son pull up on their bikes and Marye Beth greets them by their first names, just like she's done with everyone who's walked through the door since I sat down. I wasn't familiar with the series of books the boy was inquiring about, but she was. The book isn't going to be out for several weeks yet, but she assures him that his order is placed, and that she'll call the house as soon as it arrives. She adds that she might even drop it off at his house that very night. Providing of course that he remains a model young man and a pillar of society. "Young ladies, you may have your brake now. I'll see you back here in 10 minutes."
More customers file in so I make my way to the back. I'm enchanted at every turn by the fanciful illustrations that grace the covers of books I remember reading as a kid, and books that have such catchy titles, I realize that my stash of books on politics and spirituality seem rather stale. I'm transported to a wonderment place in childhood as I peruse the novelty items, historic paper dolls, and hand-made wooden games. I pick up "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" and think to myself that I really ought to read the book before I see the movie. As I make my way back to the front, I see that the pre-teen do-gooders have returned from their break, and have been to the gas station on the corner where they purchased diet Cokes and Sun Chips. I reach for a Nut Roll from behind the counter and think to myself, "Humph. What do they know?"
The place is inviting and cozy, but not overly cutsie or fancy. Kinda like Marye Beth.
By day she works with teens in trouble. BIG trouble. Kids who've slipped through the cracks so far that they've already experienced incarceration. Without the guidance she provides, they're likely to end up back behind bars, or in other institutions. She knows well the importance of education, and the empowerment it brings. Perhaps that's why she's so passionate about books...Rainbow Booksellers has kept it's regular, but limited hours for 15 years now so that Marye Beth and her husband Joe can keep their day jobs, which in-turn allows them to keep the doors to their Magical Literary Kingdom open. This dedication to our future gives them not only my admiration and a place on The R&R Report, but makes them bonafide Killer Bees.
Do you remember your favorite childhood books? I do. The Outsiders, It's Not The End Of The World, The Yearling. Oh and I loved The Boxcar Children mysteries by Gertrude Chandler-Warner. As a kid I spent allot of my free time at the library. But had there been a magical place like Rainbow Booksellers in my life, I surely would have read more. Where else can you go for a 25 -cent bag of Candy Raisins, a fresh copy of Nancy Drew, and an bottomless cache of advice from the wisest owl on the block? Nowhere. That's the charm for both the child and the child at heart. Just one visit and you'll agree that it could never be replaced by amazon.com or kindle, and certainly not the library. Marye Beth and Joe are counting on it.
Marye Beth and Joe Croze celebrate Rainbow Booksellers 15th Anniversary, September 2009.
Photos courtesy of Honore Croze
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