Around the country I’ve traveled, thriving on talks at indie bookstores from Seattle to Portland to Boston to New York to Little Rock to Greensboro and throughout Virginia. One shop stands way out. No place won my heart like Stone Soup Books and Café in Waynesboro, VA. Housed in a 120-year-old formerly abandoned home, Stone Soup embodies the spirit of independently owned bookstores: community hub, tasty and locally-sourced food prepared in its café, variety of books old and new, displays of local artisans, devoted staff, loyal and happy customers. After 8 years, Stone Soup is closing its swinging doors December 31. Too hard to make a go any longer.
My fourth Philosopher’s Lunch Table of this year was this past Saturday, December 13. I chose to celebrate Stone Soup in my talk—the place embodies every single topic of my book The Philosopher’s Table: The community that comes with breaking bread, persistence and grace, learning through storytelling, love, simple pleasures, ecological mindfulness, embracing change and daring, good decision-making…the beat goes on. Stone Soup is a haven. Roam the streets of Paris and lively chatter wafts through the doors of “café-philos,” eateries guaranteeing philosophical discussions over breakfast and/or lunch. Ideas matter. Communication matters. Soulful invigoration fuels like a chocolate croissant. A small town in the Central Virginia Valley has for a bit longer its very own such spot for convivial, comfortable conversation. Saturday I arrived at 11:30 and left with the last dining philosophers at 4:30. I’ve never seen a closing business bustling with cheerful patrons and eager employees.
Why am I so disheartened by this communal loss? I can’t shake a lingering sadness. The Industrial Revolution spun this 19th country upside down, and the US right now is upended by the revolution in technology. Profound isolation marks both time periods. We need to be wise in selecting the many gifts brought by technology while rejecting its pitfalls. Humans make tools, so how best to be wisely modern— nuclear power, “social” media, drones, artificial intelligence? Faster, cheaper, or easier does not mean better.
Small, independent businesses weave individuals into community. Money cannot continue to be the standard measuring rod of value. Fifty dollars can’t buy a good conversation. Mental stimulation isn’t on sale this week. Relationships don’t go to the highest bidder. I drive away from every visit to Stone Soup flat out rich. I’ve been thinking of reasons why and ways to support such a place. Bottom line: If you reap the benefits, ante up. Consumers have power, and my guess is that most of us are unaware of how much power and how best to use it. You pay more for a full-price book at Stone Soup because you are also at the same time paying for this place to be. You walk a bit farther for lunch because the ingredients for the soup and salad are locally sourced and your tab reaches deeper into other community businesses. You shop for gifts on Friday Artisan Nights because the artists are your neighbors. You select a handmade birthday card because your purchase provides water for the herb garden that surrounds the outdoor patio. You decide to invest in a place that gives you what you can’t find elsewhere. Lanterns light the musicians on summer evenings, fresh flowers from the garden center your table, every staff member knows your name, and books are ordered with you in mind.
Whether entering through the front or back door, I’ve watched a stream of people who willingly, gladly spend that most valuable possession at Stone Soup. They spend huge amounts of time.
Will we be poorer if indie bookstores disappear? Yes, immeasurably. This particular one brightly decorated (by heartbroken employees) for the holidays? Can’t imagine the price we’ll pay.
Marietta McCarty is a philosopher and author based in Charlottesville, Va. Originally posted online at www.mariettamccarty.com.