By John Chambless
Sitting in the padded desk chair where Richard Beards always sat, his widow, Ginny, beamed when talking about how Bookplace in Oxford became more than a place to endlessly browse through stacks of books.
“No wonder Richie liked to be here so much. It’s like the cracker-barrel philosophers sitting in front of the general store, only it’s books instead of a cast-iron stove,” she said, smiling.
When Beards died unexpectedly of cancer in December, he left a large hole in the southern Chester County arts community. As the owner of the book shop and gallery space for the last 20 years, he was a tireless booster of regional arts, volunteered for events at the Oxford Arts Alliance, and was a key organizer of last summer’s Sculpture Trail that brought cutting-edge outdoor artworks to places where nobody expected to see contemporary art.
The questions surrounding the future of Bookplace were answered last week when Ginny Beards confirmed that she will be operating the shop on weekends as usual, and keeping the gallery space open for exhibits by regional artists. “Right now, I’m just involved with Bookplace,” she said. “What Richie did in regard to art shows here, I will definitely be doing.”
She did not that “I’ve been doing some straightening up and organizing.” The shop reflected Richard Beards’ everything-is-interesting philosophy, and the shelves overflowed with books that were stacked on the floor and tucked under tables, making a trip to the store something of an expedition. Ginny has removed boards that had covered some of the side windows in the store, letting in some much-needed sunlight. She has combed through the book stacks and disposed of items that were too damaged to sell, and there are new, hand-written signs at several spots highlighting a certain type of book. It’s the kind of personal touch that customers and friends expect to find at the store, but with more organization.
“I want to make it more of a literary center, where we could have readings by authors of fiction and poetry and so forth. It is a book shop, and that shouldn’t be forgotten,” Beards said. She is lining up book signings for April and May, including one for a new book of her own poetry in late March. She is reaching out to area writers, and letting artists know that she’s open to hosting their works in the well-lit gallery space at the heart of the store.
“I have a couple of artists in mind, and will resume shows in April and May,” she said. The schedule of exhibits was often quite casual, and that way of working will continue. “People would often walk in and just show Richie their work,” Beards said. “Sometimes it resulted in a show, and sometimes it didn’t.
“Richie was very interested in keeping art affordable,” she continued. “He would like people to be able to hang paintings on their walls, and to encourage younger artists. He felt there wasn’t a point to giving a show to someone who was going to have extraordinarily high prices. He had a keen interest in artists from Philadelphia's esteemed Academy of Fine Arts which I will, of course, continue to support."
A sign on the front door of Bookplace notes that the shop is in “disarray,” but customers who enter will find the same personable atmosphere that Bookplace has always had.
“It’s bright and cheery, and since I started coming here, I have enjoyed the walk-in people who sit around and chat,” Beards said. “It’s like a little literary salon from time to time. Maybe that’s a little fancy. Gossip salon?” she added, smiling.
The store will be open as usual, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For information and updates, call 717-715-4775.