Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alexis Sirrakos, proprietor of Walnut Street Paper in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Alexis and Walnut Street will have a booth at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend in New York.
How did you get started in rare books?
Bookstores and libraries have always been a favorite space of mine. As a child, I was lucky enough to live across from a library and would often go there to relax in a quiet corner and read about different worlds, different lives, and overall immerse myself in the stories I would find there. Even as a child, I recognized and appreciated that some objects have more of a historical and intrinsic value than others, which fueled much of my collecting growing up, starting with stamps (my father just retired from the Postal Service) and continuing with some of my favorite books.
As I got older, in the back of my mind I would fantasize about owning my own bookstore someday. At the time it didn’t seem very feasible and so in college I took a different path and became a science teacher. Once I became a mother, I decided to leave the profession and stay home to raise my two little girls. During the next 5 years, I had the opportunity to really reflect about my future as a professional and my dream of becoming a bookstore owner or bookseller became more and more enticing and doable.
So over the last two years I have been buying some inventory here and there while researching how to do it. I have learned quite a bit by continuously asking questions to current bookstore owners whose shops I come across, the local small business development center in our town, and friends who are booksellers and business owners while also attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) this past summer. With this beginner’s knowledge under my belt, my appreciation for collectible objects, coupled with my love of books, allowed me to really believe that becoming a rare bookseller is the professional journey I want to take.
When did you open Walnut Street and what do you specialize in?
Over the last two years we have been selling vintage advertisements and antique/rare books through small street fairs in our town, however, we officially made Walnut Street Paper a company in August 2019! We just signed a lease on a small space above the new/used bookstore in our small town. Our goal is to officially open in mid-October and we are currently working on giving the space our own personal touch. Our specialties, thus far, are illustrated literature classics and children’s books, beautiful, ornate, interestingly bound books, original movie posters, maps and magazine ads. We are really hoping to be considered a shop for curated gifts and new collectors.
What do you love about the book trade?
What I have loved so far is the camaraderie of the trade. Most sellers I speak with have been very willing to impart their own knowledge, be supportive in my desire to be a part of their community, and are ready to connect with me as a new colleague.
Describe a typical day for you:
My typical day consists of getting my children ready for school, walking them there, and coming home to get work done on the business until I have to go pick them up. Since going to CABS, I have really been focusing on researching and cataloguing inventory in preparation for the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. I have also been working on securing a retail space, purchasing inventory, as well as the branding and marketing for the business.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
In our inventory right now, my favorite is a first edition copy of Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY: 1904). I really admire Parrish’s artistic abilities and seek out his illustrations, magazine covers, and posters when I can.
What do you personally collect?
I have always been a collector of things starting with stamps, old pennies, some books, magazine ads or photographs I found interesting and even current newspapers that memorialize an incredible event. I unknowingly started collecting Pride & Prejudice sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, but would love to start collecting different editions of Alice in Wonderland.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to read, photograph, paddle board and kayak, play board/card games, and hike.
Thoughts on the present state or future of the rare book trade?
I am hopeful. Hopeful that in this age of technology the new generations will still understand and appreciate artifacts for their historical value.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
Our very first fair will be the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in Greenpoint, NY on September 7th & 8th and we will also have a booth at the Allentown Paper Show on October 5th & 6th.