What a boast for a quaint town known as “Squan” to locals, nestled between Point Pleasant Beach and Sea Girt, bisecting the state’s midsection on a straight line from Trenton to the Atlantic Ocean. Manasquan’s claim to be the treasure of the Jersey Shore is proudly displayed on the front cover of its Chamber of Commerce booklet, adorned this year by a gorgeous painting from one of its own, the artist Stephen Weston.
As if it weren’t enough that our friends Harvey and Maria Richman have an optometric practice on Main Street, the strip is also graced by a niche bookstore, BookTowne. It isn’t Barnes and Noble, but that’s precisely the point. It’s got charm, indicative of the feel of the town that can back up it’s boast to be the treasure of the Jersey Shore, far afield from the MTV show by the same name.
You can walk in the front entrance, if you’d like. That’s how most patrons would discover the store. What a lovely, personalized selection you’ll find indicative of Rita’s tastes, with a little section for little readers on the right, and best-sellers on the left. Rita’s usually at the register, greeting you with a smile and letting you know that she’s genuinely pleased to see you.
Okay – I confess. I’m an unabashed bookaholic. So what small bookstore owner wouldn’t be glad to see me? I’m telling you, Rita is different. And it’s not just that her diminutive pose perfectly matches the ambience of the bookstore. It’s the charm of a small business owner who really cares about her patrons, and I’m a softy for that. Don’t get me wrong – I am a card-carrying member at B&N, but it just isn’t the same. If you meander up North you’ll find a similar bit of charm in Ridgewood’s Bookends, a small store with a comparable niche.
Not coincidentally, Ridgewood claims to be the treasure of Bergen County in North Jersey, and if you aren’t sure just ask someone who lives there. Mary Higgins Clark frequents the store with her signings, splitting time between her Northern roots and her place in Spring Lake, also known as the Irish Riviera. If I’ve whet your appetite to visit BookTowne, don’t use the front entrance. Use the promenade instead, leading to the back entrance, and heed the sign: Walk here, in the footsteps of those who support the Arts. They set the stage for great performances.
Rita sets the stage in her own authentic way for the solitary joy that comes with sampling books in her store. Curling around the Algonquin Arts Box Office, you’ll find the back entrance deposits you into one of a duo of chairs where you can read to your heart’s content.
If I find you sitting in “my” chair I’ll be gracious, which is easy to do in Rita’s store. The logo on my Frequent Buyers Club card sets the tone with the tag line where good friends meet good books. I was just in yesterday, and bought a delightful book that I browsed, The Wave Watcher’s Companion. Rita beamed when I bought it, commenting on how wonderful the book is. If I’m not there when you arrive, enjoy the selection and tell Rita I said hi. She is a pearl among the treasures of this Jersey Shore town.