Watchung Booksellers Celebrates Community

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Watchung Booksellers, which opened in 1991 and was bought by Margot Sage-EL in 1996, is in Montclair, New Jersey, 12 miles from downtown Manhattan. This scenic town of 38,000, located on Orange Mountain in the Watchung Mountain range, is home to several bookshelves featuring local notable authors and celebrities from all fields.

"We have about 60 authors in the immediate area," said Sage-EL, and she features many of them on the "Montclair's Finest" page on the store website. "About half the staff of the New York Times lives here," she joked. Prominent locals with recent books include Ian Frazier, Jonathan Alter, Bobbi Brown, Jon Katz, and Yogi Berra.

In the 1,100-square-foot space in one of Montclair's downtown shopping districts, Sage-EL has created a venue for local authors of both great and lesser fame. Her commitment to creating "a hometown bookstore" entails weekly readings, regular poetry nights, and a host of book clubs. "Book clubs are a huge part of our business," she explained, including several focusing on history, great books, "beam me up" sci-fi, contemporary fiction, and small world-global issues, which meet at the store. Dozens more visit Watchung for recommendations and to make club purchases, and reviews by book club members are featured on the store's website.

Also on the store site, under the heading "Books That Help the Community," Watchung Booksellers features two homegrown favorites: Grow It, Know It, Eat It, Love It, a gardening and cooking guide produced by the garden club at a local elementary school; and Nigel and the Hurricane, written by the students of a Montclair preschool class and based on the experiences of their new classmate, Nigel, who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The store donates all proceeds from the sale of these books to the school garden club and Nigel's family fund, respectively.

The store's other school-related activities include participation in fundraisers, supplying books for special programs such as an annual gay and lesbian parent night and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events, and arranging author visits.

Watchung is part of the community of booksellers through the Book Sense program, and Sage-EL said that there is avid interest among her regular customers for the monthly Book Sense Picks. "We, as a staff, also have relied on the Book Sense Picks for books that may not have been on our radar," she added. "Using Book Sense gift cards has brought us into the 21st century.... People like the graphics, especially The Cat in the Hat."

Sage-EL, who was formerly involved in educational publishing, founded a children's mail-order book catalog specializing in multicultural literature. From that she expanded to a full service bookstore. She is president of the Watchung Plaza Merchant Association and has served as a representative of the Watchung Plaza Business District on the board of the Montclair Economic Development Council. --Nomi Schwartz