COLUMBUS, OH - In my first venture into The Book Loft in Columbus, I got lost. I was not lost trying to find one of the largest independent bookstores in the U.S. I was lost inside the store itself.
Its 32 rooms, each filled with books for sale, is a maze. However, following the exit signs, I found my way to the front door. The Book Loft, at 631 South Third Street, fits in esthetically in the quaint German Village neighborhood of Columbus.
German Village is a cobblestoned area of Columbus with businesses and homes reminiscent of an old village in Germany. The bookstore is a block long with rooms dedicated to dozens of different subjects. For more than 30 years, it has been a place frequented by people from Columbus and from throughout the U.S. It is a tourist's destination.
Really, it was not a problem being lost in a bookstore. If I ever have to be confined to a single building, let it be a bookstore. Carol Jacobsma is one of the owners of the historic bookstore. Without a map, he easily maneuvers throughout the building containing an estimated 500,000 books.
"It's 32 rooms here," he said, his arms sweeping wide. "That's all we can do because we've taken up the entire building," he added.
Before The Book Loft existed, there were two buildings which Jacobsma and a co-owner combined into one. The old structure has long been a focal point of Columbus' South Third Street. In the days before the Civil War, the buildings housed a general store where shoppers could buy everything from work clothes to food. Next to it was a rollicking saloon where big drinkers would belly up to the bar and order a shots of whiskey which they downed in single gulps. Years later, came a nickelodeon movie house where silent features were splashed on a screen.
Those businesses are long gone, of course. However, The Book Loft moved in, drawing in customers from throughout the region and beyond.
"It's charming in its own way," said Edwing Medina, a medical doctor from New Jersey. "It's like a maze inside where you can get lost in books," he added.
The phrase "get lost in books" raised an eyebrow for me. Not only can you lose yourself reading a good book when you can pull from the thousands of shelves, but because of the bookstores twists and turns, you can get lost looking for the way out.
High school student Chloe Cho brought a friend as they were looking for something to help them better understand their schoolwork.
"It's almost like a castle," she said, "except with a bunch of books in it."
Each of the 32 rooms has a recorded music. The music fits in perfectly with the kind of books in the room: there is Celtic music playing in the room devoted to Irish literature; there is jazz playing in the section dedicated to vintage Hollywood movies and American entertainment.
Jacobsma said when he first got the idea of playing recorded music, officers of the music industry told him he would have to pay a fee to use their music in a commercial setting. He said they told him the only way to skirt the fee was to sell the CDs with his books. So he did. What you hear as you browse The Book Loft you can also buy in the CD section.
The bookstore seems a throwback to the past. The smell of varnished wood shelves mingles with the soft aromas of book bindings and pages. Because of the store's setting in the historic German Village of Columbus -- small and quaint brick buildings only a few feet off the winding cobblestones streets -- it has the feel of a description in a Charles Dickens novel.
Of course, Dickens' work is somewhere among the half-million volumes in the store.
In this age of electronic books where an author's works are on a computer screen which can be changed with the readers's finger touch, it is comforting to know there are many people still looking for traditional books with which they can cuddle and turn real paper pages.
Someone once wrote that the cover of every book was a door which turned on magic hinges. In The Book Loft in Columbus, there is magic throughout all of its 32 rooms.