Tuesday, February 17, 2015

L.H. Brandenburg Bookseller in Van Buren, a Refuge for Books and Cats.

There's nothing quite like a good bookstore.  They're refuges of spirit, where one can slip into a multitude of worlds for a few hours... and best of all, those worlds can come home to live with you.

Van Buren's long hill of ancient businesses has always called to me.  My best friend and I made the trip when I was in college to duck in the antique stores, flea markets and book shops all along Main Street, ducking into one doorway after another, getting some honey a block behind at the old Bee Hive and Honey House, checking out the cameras at Old Tyme Photography.

Many times I've gone back, to see one storefront after another empty.  But there's one place on Main Street that still remains crowded... with books.

L H Brandenburg Bookseller isn't your normal bookstore.  This purveyor of old books takes in your tomes for book credit or money, and rarely passes on adding another novel or history to the stacks.  The books pour out onto the street in mismatched racks that are always open, even when the bookstore is not.

When it is, on any Wednesday or Friday or Saturday, there are aisles to get lost in.  The front window's aisle is all about cookery, which drew me in one Friday morning, everything from ancient texts to regional cookbooks, glossy-covered famous chef works to dusty, flour-encrusted
family collections.  They're stacked on shelves in the window and along the walls and in the middle of the room, from above your head to the floor, thousands and thousands of books.

The food books don't just
fit there... another aisle perched precariously along the guardrail gives one just enough room to lean down to read titles.  More books cover self-help, Arkansas history and more.  So many books in this one room...

But it's not just one room.  A stairwell takes you down into the bowels of the building. where row after row of books await you.  Histories and religious texts, romance novels and period novellas, story collections and sci-fi and so many more.  You could spend days looking and still never catalog it all.

There have apparently been some who tried.  On this particular visit, the kind host told me about a girl from the university who had tried to set some of the many books right in their categories.  He was watching a movie and looking through books at a desk where every single surface was covered by more books.

As I dug through the cookery stacks, a young adolescent cat approached me.  He first slipped past me thinking I hadn't noticed, then came back for a pet as I squatted down on the floor, scanning titles.  A quick friendly rub turned into a sparring match, as young cats are wont to do, and I played with him a bit before moving to the next section.

Cats have been part of
Brandenburg Bookseller long enough.  I recall a big white cat that had been here on a previous visit, but didn't see her this time.  Instead, I noted several cats, including a short haired calico with a white belly, a small gray tabby, a huge gray fluffy friend that lay on his back in the
children's section and who did not give the slightest care to the world around him, and a long-haired calico-and-white who crossed over my head several times as I explored downstairs.  One sign promotes the store as "The only charity cat house (perhaps haunted) in Van Buren, Arkansaw" - which seemed very close to the truth.  The cats are neutered, but from what I gather, appear occasionally to be added
to the collection.

I can see their necessity.  The bookstore's location along busy Main Street, coupled with its aged structure and a below-street level, might make it attractive for pests without the constant, diligent patrols by the feline brigade.  There's something about books and cats that just go together.

I never can enter without an armful of books, and the more you purchase, the bigger a discount you can receive.  Most works are $10 or less, and I walked out with three whole bagfulls.  I could have made a much bigger
dent, but my browsing time was limited this particular day to a single hour.

Bibliophiles will understand the allure of this place.  It's also popular with tourists who discover it across from the train station, particularly when taking the excursion train from this point up to
Springdale and back.  But it's not noted much of anywhere, and for those who don't make the discovery on visit, there's no advertising out there to pull one in, just a front porch packed with books like bait on a hook for those who love rifling through pages.

If you are of this bent, I encourage you to make a visit.  Take your time, say hello to the cats, and dig into the stacks for a while.  Relax, there's not much going on here, and absolutely no hurry.  And if you need a bite to eat, Brothers Cottage Cafe has mile-
high pie next door.

L H Brandenburg Bookseller
816 Main Street
Van Buren, AR 72956
(479) 471-9315


  1. What a wonderful place! I would get lost for an entire day there looking at all the books. And yes, I quite agree with you. A place that large, with so many nooks and crannies necessitates cats to ensure no 'critters'. Thanks for letting us know about this treasure. Should I ever venture to Van Buren, I'll be certain to seek it out.


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