The Bob spot: Cedar Rapids man is seeing America, one bookstore at a time

Bob Manson visited more than 30 indie bookstores last year

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August 24, 2014 | 12:01 am

Bob Manson loves bookstores.

He loves them so much he’s traveled around the country, visiting more than 30 independent bookstores in 13 states in the last year.

He’s documenting his travels on a blog, http://theindiebobspot.blogspot.com/, with the aim of visiting every store featured in the book, “My Bookstore,” a collection of essays from 81 authors about their favorite independent bookstores.

Along the way he’s bought plenty of books, met shop owners and chatted with their customers.

“It’s just a ball doing this,” he says. “I’ve met so many great people.”

Manson, 57, lives in Cedar Rapids when he’s not exploring the nation’s bookstores. He retired from teaching band at Taft Middle School when the school district offered early retirement incentive packages a few years ago.

Happily for him, that has left him more time to indulge his lifelong passion for travel. He says the bookstore project gives him something to organize his trips around. It also inspires him to get off the beaten path. While many stores are in places like New York City or San Francisco, others are in small towns that require hours of driving to reach.

No two bookstores are alike, he says. He’s been to Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., where shoppers are given a map of the store when they walk in to help navigate the city-block sized building. He’s also been to plenty of small, family-run stores with only a handful of employees.

“It’s like a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard — they’re both dogs, but they’re totally different,” he says. “A Barnes and Noble is kind of cookie cutter. Pretty much if you go into one, you see the same thing you’d see in another. But, boy, the independent bookstores are totally different.”

He says some of his favorite stores have been in buildings converted from other uses. Examples include Elliot Bay Books in Seattle, Washington, which used to be an auto repair shop, and the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado, which has a location in a former theater.

“You can see, OK, here’s the lobby, the theater boxes, the pit orchestra, the stage,” Manson says. “You can just see the theater, and now it’s filled with books.”

He’s also visited many bookstores not on his original list — shop owners keep telling him of other stores they love.

“There is a real brotherhood and sisterhood among these bookstore owners. They know what they’re challenges are, and they stick together,” he says.

He says despite the age of Amazon, he thinks brick-and-mortar independent bookstores will be around for a long time.

“I just got done visiting a store in Ann Arbor, Mich., that has only been open 16 months. I think that’s very encouraging,” he says.

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