After facing closure, Mt. Airy independent bookstore finds a new owner

When news came in January that Walk a Mile Crooked Books, a longtime staple of the Mt. Airy community, would be closing this year, many community members were devastated.

Then, according to owner Greg Williams, the unthinkable happened: People started stepping up and putting forward proposals to save the bookstore.

“I haven’t heard of anyone selling a used bookstore,” he said. “It’s a thing of the past.”

‘When one door closes…’

That’s where Jake Sudderth came in.

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The Seattle native lived in Philadelphia on-and-off before deciding to settle in Mt. Airy two and a half years ago. After working in business development with newspapers and publishers, Suderth saw the perfect chance in the closing of the bookstore.

The decision to close the store was not an easy one for Williams, who said he thought about it for three or four years before announcing that he would begin selling off the store’s inventory of 18,000-plus books. 

The decision came around the same time as a series of battles with SEPTA — which owns the train station that the bookstore called home for more than 18 years — started up.

When the agency told Walk a Crooked Mile it could no longer host the concerts and flea markets outside the station which have been a neighborhood mainstay for years, Williams saw no reason to stay put.

“I was connected to the neighborhood. I fostered them and they fostered me at the same time all these years. I tried to make it last as long as possible,” he said, adding that he was also ready to retire, travel and spend more time with his grandchildren. 

Sudderth, however, saw an opportunity in the recently vacated Video Library on the 7100 block of Germantown Ave. It’s an area with higher visibility and more foot traffic, a location where Sudderth said he hopes folks picking up a pizza or a cup of coffee on the avenue will stop by the store to browse some books.

So with a year and a half still left on the 20-year lease Williams signed with SEPTA, Sudderth will be taking the bookstore to Germantown Avenue.

Plans hatch for a new store

He signed a two-year lease and is working with Williams on converting the former video store. Once open, the store will have an open-seating area, an area that will sell pastries and coffee and a space for “kids to just roll around.”

The section that served as the Video Library’s theater will soon host book talks and discussions.

Sudderth says he would like to see up to 100 events in the store a year — anything from concerts to book club meetings. 

“I want this store to continue being a trumpet of the community,” said Sudderth.

As for former location at the train station, SEPTA plans to put it up for competitive bidding to find a new tenant. Williams and Sudderth both plan to stay active in the process. 

“I am just so grateful that somebody wants to keep a used bookstore alive,” said Williams. “There’s a place for bookstores. There is something that bookstores do best: There’s nothing like turning a corner and finding the unexpected.”

Walk a Crooked Mile Books will hold its soft opening on July 15. 

The store has already started holding concerts in the new space. Check out the gallery above for scenes from the June 26 concert, featuring Prose from Dover.

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