Bookstore with Indie Cred

-photos and words by Jocelyn

A CARVED WOODEN SIGN PROTRUDES FROM ONE OF THE many brick buildings on Phoenixville’s Bridge Street. The walk-up to Wolfgang, an independent bookstore, may seem a bit daunting. The narrow flight of 26 stairs is lit by the guiding light of a banister covered in white Christmas lights. To the right of the second landing, a small foyer is filled with discount books ($2 each.) The main room is sizeable, but not overwhelming. Tables covered with books are islands of different literary adventures. Against the white east and west walls are floor-to-ceiling dark, wooden bookshelves categorized by genre. A reading loft filled with vintage and secondhand furniture faces Bridge Street. Here, customers can comfortably sample their books of choice. Photos of writers hang on the walls as if they were family: Franz Kafka at his desk while his dog crawls out from under it, Maya Angelou dancing and a portrait of Stephen King. Today, the loft is empty and the tall open windows allow city sounds to break the silence.

     “I’m trying to create a bookstore model that I can take other places,” says owner Jason Hafer. He sees Wolfgang as an incubator for his eventual vision of owning several independent bookstores in a city. It is a warm April day and a myriad of music from passing cars compete with Ryan Adams on the bookstore’s radio. Hafer pauses now and then as a large, loud truck or bus disturbs the conversation. Today, Wolfgang feels especially homey. Hafer’s mom, Karen, is sitting at the register bottle feeding a three week old litter of kittens. 
Wolfgang’s home, at 237 Bridge St., was built in the 1850s. The later, a fraternity called first floor was an artillery factory, the second a literary club and the third a dance studio. About 100 years later, The Odd Fellow’s moved in. “They had literary club meetings,” Hafer says recounting what he’s been told from elders around town, “At times, they occupied the whole building.” Hafer, a man of average height and build with shaggy blonde hair, has preserved bits of their legacy. Over the counter hangs the Odd Fellow’s symbol: three metal rings linked together around the letters F-L-P. “It stands for friendship, love and peace. That was their motto.” Hafer doesn’t know much about the group whose temple was on the fourth floor. The Odd Fellow’s dwindled out after World War II.
     The legacy of Wolfgang began four years ago. Hafer’s original business partner, who left in January of 2009, was the initial driving force. He told Hafer of an exciting discovery. At a yard sale he’d found a first edition Henry David Thoreau book for just a few dollars. He wanted Hafer to join him and start a business in rare book dealing.
     Unlike most bookstores, Wolfgang serves no coffee. Hafer simply says, “It’s another business - not one I have experience in.” The windows of the loft overlook the Artisan Gallery and Cafe that opened around the same time as Wolfgang. Hafer has good relations with both the Artisan and Steel City Coffee House down the street. Steel City hosts Wolfgang’s author events.  Hafer has tried to have similar events in Wolfgang’s
 loft, but the space proved limiting. At the event, Hafer conducts an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-style interview with an author. A reading of the featured writer’s work, an open discussion and book signing engage the audience.
Although a gift-giver’s hand-written forward lessens a book’s value, Hafer loves them. “It’s one of my favorite things about second-hand books. You get a two sentence glimpse into people’s lives...there are some inscriptions that have stuck with me.” This doesn’t lessen a book’s price by much, though Hafer does make exceptions for bad penmanship. “If it is written in a crayon with a second grader’s handwriting, then I’ll take the price down.” 

Many people probably wonder why Hafer would stick with the book business during the digital age. His answer is interesting.
“Kindle cheapens a lot of things,” he says. “They’re marketing ‘environmentally friendly’ but that’s not the case.” On Wolfgang’s Facebook page, Hafer posted an article about the damage done to the environment because of the digital age. Digital technology uses copious amounts of energy from coal-fired power plants that are wreaking havoc on the ozone. Without the demand of so much energy, there would be fewer people doing the dangerous job of coal mining he argues.

            Despite these advancing digital times, Wolfgang was voted the best bookstore in the Philadelphia area on three years in a row. Hafer believes that “books will always be around” and are better for the environment. He’s always glad when there are books made from recycled paper in the shop.
Aside from being a book advocate, Hafer is a lover of writing himself and a graduate from The University of Pittsburg. He wanted to be a writer, but has had his hands full with the shop. “Now that I’m 31, I don’t feel the pressure to be a young published author.” As far as having a favorite book, Hafer found inspiration in Jack Kerouac’s famous novel “On the Road.” Hafer says, “Kerouac was the one writer who set this course. ‘On The Road’... showed me a lot of what you can do with writing.” ◊