Independent bookstores are the heartbeats of their communities. They provide culture and community, generate local jobs and sales tax revenue, promote literacy and education, champion and center diverse and new authors, connect readers to books in a personal and authentic way, and actively support the right to read and access to books in their communities.

Each week we profile an independent bookstore, sharing what makes each one special and getting their expert and unique book recommendations.

This week we have Huxley & Hiro in Wilmington, Delaware!

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

What’s your store’s story?

Huxley & Hiro is a woman and LGBTQ owned bookstore in historic downtown Wilmington. As a public benefit corporation, the store's mission is to partner with local non-profits and provide a community meeting space for the arts. Our store is named after our Maine Coon cat Huxley and Shiba Inu dog Hiro, who make regular appearances to welcome customers. Shortly after opening, owners Ryan Eanes and Claire van den Broek were named most influential Delawareans of 2024 in the business category!

What makes your independent bookstore special?

In the digital age where books are so easily and freely accessible online, and where we are constantly engaged on our phones and other devices, we recognized an increasing desire for places where people could come together in person and share their love of literature. Through a carefully curated selection of books and a design that is browsing-friendly, we want to offer our community a new take on the beloved experience of in-person shopping on a downtown Main Street. Though we as founders are millennials, we realized that both younger and older generations see the Millennial/Gen X vision of virtual communities as far more dystopian than the idealized image we had of the possibilities of technology. Our society seems to have a deep seated desire to return to in-person communities and 15 minute neighborhoods where we can build interpersonal connections not mediated by technology.

What's your favorite section in your store?

My (Claire) favorite section of the store is our 'Curious Histories' display. Influenced by James Daunt, who created an entire London bookstore organized by country instead of genre (no sci-fi, because that wasn't classifiable by country), we wanted to bring to life a curated collection that drew on many genres, centered around the theme of 'Curious Histories'. We pulled books from cooking, travel, history, the sciences, and so on that focused on unusual stories, like the history of the egg or Sesame Street in Moscow. Our hope is that this display will offer people a new way of browsing that doesn't confine them to the genre towards which they usually gravitate; the kind of experience algorithms online aren't good at curating.

What book do you love to recommend to customers and why?

My favorite recommendation is Sadegh Hedayat's "Blind Owl," a deeply disturbing novella written by an Iranian author in the 1930s. Imagine if Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka had a child born in Iran, who grew up watching F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu." Surreal and dreamlike, at times verging on an early Middle Eastern magical realism, this largely unknown novella will haunt you.

What book do you think deserves more attention and why?

Though it's a classic, I'm always surprised more people aren't familiar with Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita." Written in Soviet Russia and censored until after his death, Mikhail Bulgakov's comedic novel chronicles the adventures of Satan, his cat and his valet as they visit Moscow. The story is strongly interwoven with Goethe's "Faust," one of the greatest plays ever written, and in many ways, it's also the love story of the Master and his Margarita (Faust and Gretchen). Brilliant, hilarious, and at times quite moving.

Why is shopping at local, independent bookstores important?

When you choose a local, independent bookstore, more of your money stays within the community. We want to live in vibrant, 15 minute walking communities where we can find unique things and discover new experiences. Bookstores remain a critical part of this experience, and only by supporting local businesses can we ensure that these kinds of neighborhoods remain a reality. Sure you can buy a book cheaply, but do you want to live next a massive warehouse with trucks coming and going at all hours, or do you want to grab your coffee and dog and wander into a beautiful local store with friendly employees who know you and can help you discover new books?

What are some of your store's events, programs, or partnerships coming up this quarter that you would like to share?

We regularly partner with other local businesses for experiences such as coffee tastings from a local roaster, a bag making workshop that benefits women with cancer, and historical talks such as our event with a 102 year old WWII Air Force Veteran to celebrate that our city has been named an American WWII Heritage City.

We are also partnering with Delaware Futures to create a Banned Books Advocacy Program that will allow disadvantaged youths to spend six weeks exploring banned books, learning to write letters to school boards, and gaining a better understanding of why groups want to ban books and how to fight censorship. At the end of the Program, they will earn a certificate that we hope will provide them with an advantage in their college applications.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Inside Huxley & Hiro, a bookstore with animal greeters and Curious Histories section

2024-06-07T20:41:26Z dg43tfdfdgfd