Dreaming of a Calvert Piazza
by Margaret Tearman
There must be a record number of auto supply stores in Calvert County.
In Dunkirk, there are two at one intersection. Down the road, at the next signal, is another. A couple of miles farther down Route 2/4 is the tiny business district of Huntingtown no more than a crossroad but it too has its own auto supply store. Venture farther south, say another five miles or so, and enter auto supply store nirvana: Prince Frederick. And so it goes all the way to Solomons Island.
What is it about this county that attracts so many auto supply stores? A brief thumb through the community Yellow Pages yields just shy of two dozen listings. So many oil filters, starters and manifolds.
How is it that Calvert is able to support all these auto supply stores but cannot seem to support one nice, big bookstore?
Every Calvert Countian I speak with agrees. We need no, make that yearn for a bookstore in this New Year. A bookstore with titles by authors named Proulx, Didion, DeLillo or Theroux. Heck, we would be thrilled with even the more commercially prolific of the lot, say Clancy, Ludlum or Bryson.
Today those of us who live in Calvert County must drive to Annapolis or Bowie to patronize a bookstore. Once across the county line, we find a veritable buffet of booksellers at our disposal. But why must we drive 30-plus miles to pick up a book on The New York Times bestseller list? Or the latest travel guide on a summer vacation destination? Yes, we could go to our beautiful new library, but I find pleasure in possessing books. My bookshelves are filled with books waiting to be read and then re-read. Or to be shared with a friend.
There is a charming, little-used bookstore in Prince Frederick. I think there is no longer one in Solomons. In spite of several new shopping developments popping up, to the best of my knowledge not one of them boasts a bookstore as a tenant.
It has been suggested by well-meaning folk that I use the Internet, where I can buy books the new-fashioned way: on-line. With the added convenience of one-click shopping, it could not be easier.
But I am old fashioned. I prefer a bookstore on terra firma. A store I can walk into knowing it may be hours before I walk out with at least one arm full of literary wonder, adventure and laughter. A store wherein I can receive a recommendation from the customer standing next to me about a great book that perhaps I would enjoy as much as the one I’m holding. A store where I might bump into a neighbor and enjoy a few minutes of opinionated conversation.
Tom Hanks summed it up in a line in the movie You’ve Got Mail when he described his family’s mega book chain, Fox Books, as a piazza a gathering place where neighbors meet, catch up with their community. And the world.
Just the other day, my husband needed some oil for one of his tractors, so we stopped by the super auto parts store in what used to be a chain drugstore in Dunkirk. As I waited for him at the register, I noticed a group of men gathered around a cart holding a Mr. Coffee, a stack of Styrofoam cups, a box of sugar and powdered cream. Each man held a cup of hot coffee. Whilst sipping the steaming brew, they were enthusiastically debating the merits of replacing an entire exhaust system rather than just the broken part.
It was then, I realized I had stumbled upon Calvert County’s gathering place, its piazza. It was just not the one I envisioned.
Margaret Tearman of Huntingtown, who works in documentary film as well as in words, chronicles Calvert County growth and Chesapeake Country achievement for Bay Weekly. Her last story described an Edgewater couple’s hike along the whole Appalachian trail (Vol. xiv, No. 48: Nov. 30, 2006).