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Spotlight: One of the town’s favorite haunts

BY RYAN COLE | FEBRUARY 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Haunted Bookshop is not your typical bookstore.

Two cats, Logan and Nierme, roam lethargically around the shop, 203 N. Linn St. Labyrinthine passageways wind into cozy nooks. A worn couch, upright piano, and wooden dinner table fill out the store’s spacious back room.

Nialle Sylvan, the Haunted Bookshop’s owner since 2004, is responsible for the homey environment. She said the independent store’s comforting atmosphere is conducive to her style of business. And the friendly staff keeps customers returning to talk with “the captain.”

“The joke is that we are the crew of some sort of nautical vessel,” Sylvan said.

Sylvan’s first officer is her floor manager, and an employee who fixes shelves and hardware is the chief engineer, she explained.

And if there were any doubts concerning the captain’s passion for literature, they are dispelled by the book-repair employee’s title: chief medical officer.

Employee Anna Hurley, 23, said the store is “like your favorite aunt’s house.”

The 23-year-old volunteered at the store before becoming an employee two years ago. She said she can sometimes “see the light bulb go on” when Sylvan helps a customer find the right book.

“She won’t say anything, just turn around and run back behind the shelf,” Hurley said.

And while customers appreciate her assistance, the cats have been a big draw for new area residents.
Nierme, a tabby and peach calico mix, gave birth to a litter of kittens three years ago. Sylvan gave away the kittens and got Logan, who has long gray fur, to serve as a companion.

“Students who had to leave their pets at home come here for their surrogate kitty-fix,” Sylvan said.

Craig Kessler, the owner of Real Records, has shared space with his “perfect neighbor” for two years. Kessler said Sylvan first impressed him with her extensive business and literary knowledge.

“She seemed like she knew what she was doing,” he said.

Sylvan said she enjoys diversifying her expertise. The owner earned her first book job by correctly identifying the Civil War’s beginning and ending dates on a job application.

“If you don’t know a little bit at least about a lot of different things, you’ll be lost trying to help people who want that information,” Sylvan said.

The 33-year-old bookshop derives its name from Christopher Morley’s 1919 book and refers to the ghosts of literature rather than an actual haunting — much to the chagrin of neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

“I get phone calls every year — about Oct. 15 onward — from little kids that would love for me to have blood dripping down my walls, and I have to disappoint them every time,” Sylvan said.

And though the store is not haunted, an “anthropomorphized spirit of happy coincidence” does lurk about the shop, she said.

When she purchased the business in 2004, she had just received an inheritance that matched the amount needed to buy the store.

The story serves as an apt description of what brings many book-lovers to the store initially.

“My theory is whenever you put lots of books and lots of smart people in one place, weird stuff is bound to happen,” she said.


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