By G.A. FranklinBoth The Daily News out of Batavia, NY, and the Perry Herald out of the Village of Perry have run more than one article over the course of the last 12 years on the subject of Ann Burlingham and her Burlingham Bookstore which is located on the ground floor of the Brigg's Building on Perry's southeast corner of Main Street and Borden Ave. The Bookstore, brand new in January of 2006 rapidly became a staple of Main Street and a sign of more good things to come.
I had just arrived in Perry on July 1, 2005, to become the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Perry on Covington St., just one block down from what would be the Bookstore on Main in a short six months. Rick Hauser's Architectural firm was moving into the floor above the Bookstore right about that same time and the Rocker's Delight Restaurant on Covington (corner of Short St.) was celebrating its first year open at the time Burlingham's was opening. Perry's Main Street Association came into being in the same general time period and it seemed for a while like new hope for downtown Perry was being born.
Ann was not new to the area, having been born and raised in Perry. That seemed to give her a head start and the Burlingham name became even more recognized than before, if that is possible. I remember the time Ann prepared refreshments for an event at Stoody Hall at the Silver Lake Institute, and donated all the coffee. She was a gracious, warm and friendly host eager to be helpful and productive for her beloved community. To read the two newspaper tributes to Ann Burlingham's Bookstore, click on the "Read More >" link to the lower left right under this paragraph.
PERRY — “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” acclaimed author C.S. Lewis once said.
But for 12 years, the workers at Burlingham Books — a cozy little shop and corner cafe tucked among the storefronts on Main Street — sure tried. They shaped the inside of the store as much as they shaped the foam on the steaming lattes and mugs of hot cocoa they served, their ideas and passions lining the shelves with so much more than just the classics — sci-fi paperbacks, mystery books and fantasy novels first eked their way onto the shelves, then established themselves as staples in “just the kind of bookstore you never expected in a small town.” And though owner Ann Burlingham, ever a believer in serendipity, let the pieces fall where they may, she never was one to watch from afar — bringing her own ideas and dreams to life just inside the door.
“I grew up here, but I’ve lived elsewhere,” Burlingham said. “I used to daydream about coming back and maybe buying that old movie theater in Warsaw or maybe working in a library or maybe opening a bookstore.”
When it came time for her to come back home — the sixth-generation family farmer had obligations here, no doubt — she re-examined what truly called her heart. And there it was, she said, that serendipity again, as all the little things began to fall into place right before her very eyes.
“I love bookstores,” she said. “My family — if the Burlinghams see a bookstore, we’re in the bookstore — so to me, it’s the place to go.”
And so although she never could distinctly remember discussing the idea “with anyone, ever!” people began approaching her to ask about her intentions.
“I talked to Rick Hauser,” Burlingham said. “When we sat down, Main Street was pretty moribund, but the Hausers had been working slowly on different community projects and farmers’ markets and Last Night Perry, and Rick was planning to move his architecture firm — or they might have already moved — to Perry. They wanted to buy this building, which at the time was vacant, and it helped with the loan to say there was going to be a store inside. I tend to believe in serendipity, so things get thrown in front of me and if it’s something I’ve been thinking about, well, clearly the universe wants this too.”
And so she, with a young baby boy and a husband working for Google three time zones away, set to work. Though she’d hoped to open by Christmas 2005, she missed the deadline by about a month, officially opening the doors on Jan. 31, 2006. In the time since, she’s made enough memories to last a lifetime.
Reflecting on over a decade of service left Burlingham teary-eyed — she can recall a time when her toddler, before he could even talk, showed her a splinter he got walking around the store during the build-out.
“Bless his soul, he pulled it out himself,” Burlingham said. “I don’t do splinters.”
As her eyes wandered to the front of the store — the children’s section, and the play area — she couldn’t help but smile.
“He used to dust all the low spots — now he’s tall, he doesn’t dust the top spots,” she said.
Burlingham expected to run the bookstore for 30 years — “good retail karma” in the building that had housed a dry-goods store for 30 years, a department store for another 30 years and a clothing store for 30 years after that told her all that she needed, and wanted, to know — but when sickness took hold last year, she realized that it would soon be time to say goodbye.
“As I was ill last year, I was realizing that I was going to let go,” Burlingham said. “There was a lot of mourning involved with that, but it made me think about all the times I cried happy tears. And I cried happy tears...”
• When she hosted Burlingham’s first musical event, a blues group that had the store jam-packed with community members eager to witness the talent.
• When a young boy came in grasping a coupon for a book with his parents and grandparents, manure on his boots and a look on his face that told Burlingham, had she not handed out the coupons, he may never have stepped foot inside.
• When she heard an author showing a book to his grandmother inside the store, telling her that he had, in fact, dedicated it to the staff of Burlingham Books.
And so many, many more times when she saw things that filled her heart and made her cry out of joy and happiness, she said, realizing that owning this bookstore had been a dream come true.
“I like to daydream about all the different paths I could have taken in life...,” she said. “Part of what I used to tell young people who worked for me, when they were telling me that they were going to do something pragmatic, you know they were in college and they were going to take accounting because that’s a good career, I said, ‘You are too young not to follow your dreams.’ If you go in the direction of something you think is just useful, that’s the direction you’re headed. If you go in the direction of something you love, you don’t know where you will end up...You get to the top of the hill and you suddenly see the vista and there’s things you never thought of before. That’s what this has been. I couldn’t imagine where I’d really get to or who I’d be, but I’m in the direction I want to be heading.”
And her heart is soothed by so many things, too — the fact that her illnesses are not fatal, like she first thought they might be; that she now gets the chance, finally, to live with her husband and teenage son all under one roof; and that her trusted manager, Giuseppe Gentile, will be stepping in to fill her shoes.
“I hope you, this community, will continue to choose to be a town with a soul — a town with a bookstore,” Burlingham said in a Facebook post that announced the anticipated March closure. And she knows that with Gentile, her store will be in good hands and hopes that will help to make the community’s decision a little easier.
Gentile has worked with Burlingham for over a decade and said he plans to carry on many traditions that made him reflect fondly of his time at the store — “We did a birthday party for ‘The Hobbit,’” he said. “It was the anniversary of the book, but they were also launching the first ‘Hobbit’ film, and so we threw a birthday party with a birthday cake and presents and maybe birthday hats. That was a fun day.” — but that when the name changes and the new store opens, likely in June, people can expect other changes, too.
“I want to expand the cafe, we’re going to have a larger seating area for cafe patrons, faster Wi-Fi,” he said. “We’re going to keep a lot of the same lines — all of the books are going to stay — but I also want to carry Legos, board games, stuff like that.”
With an interest in tech-y items and troubleshooting, gadgets and other services could find their way into the mix, too, but at the heart of it, the storefront located at 2 Main St. will always remain a small-town bookstore and a lifelong dream.
“It’s such a weight lifted off of me,” Burlingham said. “I’m so relieved and joyful and grateful to know that I leave the store in Giuseppe’s hands. The store has always been shaped by whoever works here — they helped me decide what would be in here, so it’s a real joy and I really, I might have an easier time telling people to shop here when somebody else owns it.”
And Burlingham made sure to note that she’s not saying goodbye forever, either. She’ll be back and when she comes, she wants to see a bookstore filled with patrons and thriving as ever, she said.
“Perry is the home where my heart is,” she said.