When it came to nurturing my love of reading growing up in the suburbs of Wisconsin, I often found it difficult to gain access to quality reading material outside of trips to the library or any number of used bookstores scattered somewhat randomly throughout the area. Indeed, a youth without a license to drive or steady supply of income will undoubtedly encounter roadblocks in their efforts to procure a new book, but without a nearby retailer of decent literature, the aforementioned issues remained moot.
In July of 1990, I had recently finished the second grade and was on the verge of my eighth birthday-it was during this summer that my family made the first of what would become a near-thirty year ongoing tradition of summer vacations to Minocqua, a small town in northern Wisconsin that has over time become a popular destination for many to enjoy. Our week has always consisted of fishing, taking in the local cuisine, relaxing in our cottage on Lake Kawaguesaga and, of course, numerous trips into downtown Minocqua so as to check out the countless shops befitting a small town such as this, all soundtracked by the familiar call of numerous loons scattered about the area.
It was here that I first set foot inside a Book World.
A visit to Book World feels like the warmth of an old, familiar blanket-the store may not possess the size of a major retailer, but still manages to maintain a sizable inventory and cozy, clean environment that welcomes one in immediately. The smell of fresh paperback hangs about the air, a familiar scent akin to a trip to a familiar elementary school library. The aisles are just wide enough to browse comfortably, while the outer walls house magazines, cookbooks and a children's section wherein one is likely to find any number of youth paging through their favorite Dr. Seuss or Berenstain Bears.
Over the years, I made sure to make a least one purchase from Book World every time I visited Minocqua, whether it was the novelization of Walt Disney classic The Rocketeer or the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Exposing my children to Book World was also something of importance, especially as I charged myself with the task of hitting any and every branch I came across-over the years, I found my way to, among others, locations in Eagle River, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Dells, Sister Bay and a beloved site in Ripon, the town in which my father had grown up. Indeed, many a visit to Ripon more than likely included a stop at Book World, and it wasn't uncommon to receive a gift certificate from my grandparents for Christmas year after year. Many a time spent perusing their Biography section exposed me to notable individuals of whom I never would have otherwise known, and as a youth who also possessed a love of writing, it's hard not to look at my time spent within any Book World as anything but highly influential on me.
In December of 2017, my son and I made our way to the West Bend location for what I knew might very well be my final Book World experience following their then-recent announcement that the entire chain would be closing its doors in the wake of suffering physical store sales and continued rise of e-commerce. Upon entering the store, that all-too familiar smell hit me, and I knew this would be an emotional visit. Making sure to walk away from Book World with at least one item in memoriam, I decided to let my son decide what said item would be-much to my surprise, he chose a stuffed loon.
When it comes to this memento of Minocqua, this time with my son, this wonderful chain as a whole and the realization that the end of Book World is imminent, these truly encapsulate the definition of a memory that will forever live on, in the adults who may reminisce to their children about that store they used to visit, and in those children who accompanied them. If ever a legacy was to be left behind, it's not just in the product, but in the feel of a place seemingly extracted from nostalgic days gone by. For some, it might just be a store, but for me, it was so much more. Like the ending of a favorite book, it will never be forgotten.