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Parishville bookshop celebrates quarter-century of existence

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PARISHVILLE - When the BirchBark Bookshop opened 25 years ago in Parishville, the store’s owner, Tim Strong, was not expecting to stay at the location for very long.

More than 80,000 books and millions, if not billions, of pages later, the store is still running strong, thanks to many devoted customers.

The shop is open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and is located at 40 Ashton Road in the woods of Parishville. But its remote location appears to be part of its charm that has drawn readers to the second-hand bookstore for more than two decades.

Mr. Strong’s collection includes a wide range of reading materials from local history to vintage magazines and even records.

“Right now we have about 80,000 books plus two tractor trailers full to add now,” he said. “We have what’s called a birthday store. So if you wanted to buy a Life Magazine that was from your parent’s birth date, you can get one that falls during that week when they were born. People get a kick out of that.”

Mr. Strong explained that his ex-wife earned a job as the vice president of SUNY Potsdam, leading to the north country relocation. He earned a master’s degree in English from SUNY Binghamton, was working on a novel and “was looking for something to do in the afternoon.

“What I thought was that I would start out here, but I didn’t expect to do well out here. From day one people have kept coming and they keep coming,” Mr. Strong said. “The college students that come from Potsdam, Clarkson and St. Lawrence University have been so wonderful. They are polite, respectful and it is a joy to have them come in and visit.”

The joy from the bookshop visits has been mutual, as numerous loyal customers have come back to Mr. Strong’s establishment year after year.

“I’ve been going the last 20 years and have been watching it grow ever since. He started out small and kept adding and adding and adding. It’s quite the maze of bookshelves now,” Hermon resident John Bray said. “I just love talking to Tim about what he’s into. He’s building paper, writing poetry, etc. He has an office separate from the store where he makes his own paper, writes the poetry and eventually publishes the work. He has worked with an illustrator to have his poetry published into a book. He always sets something aside for me in particular. I can’t imagine a nicer guy to get along with. He is very, very self-assuming.”

“I like the atmosphere and he is very personable and he is very honest with everybody. He also has a huge selection of books which I love,” Potsdam resident Adrienne Gilbert said.

Mr. Strong said that the store will likely be doing a 25 percent sale for all books this weekend in recognition of the 25th anniversary.

With bookstores seemingly becoming a dying breed and some popular chains long gone, Mr. Strong expressed no concern that that result will become the fate of his shop.

“I think it’s because of the variety and I keep my prices low. I also try to be very friendly with the customers and enjoy seeing what they need and are looking for,” he said. “I think it’s just the atmosphere of the store.”

The owner credits the diversity of his labor, along with the friendly faces he sees every weekend, as to what keeps the BirchBark Bookshop going strong.

“It’s very diverse and that’s what makes it fun. You never know who’s going to come in and what they’re going to be looking for. That’s what I like about the job. It’s not something that you dread coming into every day. I would like to send a big thank you to my customers who keep coming back week after week,” Mr. Strong said. “The best thing is that I never expected it. Sometimes I’ll be watching a little baby in a mother’s arm and then the same kid comes in 25 years later. I’ve watched so many kids grow up. I will say ‘Oh where’s your kid now?’ And the mother will say ‘Oh, he’s in graduate school now.’ I get a charge out of that.”

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