hello hello books offers unique Rockland experience

Independent bookshop sells new and used books with focus on diversity and social justice
By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 18, 2019
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Lacy Simons is the owner and founder of hello hello books in Rockland.

Rockland — You see a bit of everything at hello hello books.

On one shelf you find a bust of Shakespeare in a leopard-print hat next to a classroom globe and a tea box shaped like an English telephone booth. Frog & Toad sit together nearby. A fluther of plastic jellyfish dangle from the ceiling. Everywhere is a postcard or clipping, a sculpture or stuffed animal, and that's before you even get to the shelves and shelves of new and used books.

This 800-square-foot book store is a bit like the TARDIS from "Doctor Who." It is somehow larger on the inside than it appears from without, containing infinity in a tiny space.

Owner Lacy Simons describes herself as a "visual maximalist" carrying on an independent bookstore tradition in Rockland in displaying ephemera.

"I like to be around places where I feel like I'm not going to mess anything up," she said. "The chaos is a little bit built-in and assumed."

hello hello books, tucked into the back of Rock City Café at 316 Main St. in Rockland, packs a lot of new and used books into a small space, and Simons explains that the collection of books displayed is carefully curated to match the local tastes of its customer base. In addition to books, it sells unique greeting cards and some hard-to-find magazines.

It's a good place to find new books that take on the big issues of the day, books that feature diverse authors and voices, and literary fiction. The contents of the bookstore change and evolve over time.

Simons said the store has been growing the new book side of the business each year.

On the used book side, the store has a trade credit system for leaving and taking used books. The staff knows the store's "regulars" well enough to make recommendations each visit based on what has just come in.

Social justice is also an important part of the store's mission.

"We are deliberate in our choices ...to feature work by, about and focused on POC, LGBTQIA+ individuals, disability rights advocates, body positive and body diverse humans," Simons said in a presentation to Publishers Weekly. "We're also a proudly progressive, anti-racist and feminist bookstore and advocate locally and nationally for these causes. We've lost customers over it; we know that. But the issues that are of bedrock to the majority of our customers are far too important, in the long run, to set aside in the present moment for fear of offending. Everyone is welcome to our store, and much of our in-store advocacy is as simple as the books we stock and choose to highlight."

One of hello hello books' after-hours events is its Social Justice Reading group.

In addition, the store was one of five finalists in the Publishers Weekly 2019 Bookstore of the Year Award competition.

Another aspect of the store's mission is to promote print culture in a screen-centric world. It is a place that can offer a break from digital overload.

Simons said the ways in which the world has opened up can be paralyzing, and her store has the ability to make that smaller world for people. "So they are not going to think, 'How much of this stuff do I have to wade through to get to the good thing that I really want,'" she said.

For Simons, it started as simply loving books. She has gone from being the eight-year-old who got in trouble for taking too many books out of the library to working as an independent bookstore owner. At first she was intimidated by the idea of owning her own business, but gained the confidence she needed after earning her master's degree and serving as managing editor of a poetry press in Farmington.

She notes on the staff picks section of the store's website that she is "always a little surprised that she gets to own a bookstore."

It's the devoted customers who decide to shop local and support downtown businesses that make that possible.

For more information, visit hellohellobooks.com or visit the store at the back of Rock City Café, 316 Main St., Rockland. The side door entrance is off Orient Street.

(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Jacob Fricke of Belfast works at hello hello books. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
(Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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