Ownership of the Book Garden on State Street changed hands this month from previous owner Rick Powell to new owner Brad Carey. The store has been a feature of Montpelier’s State Street for nearly 15 years and, since Powell bought the space, has undergone a slow metamorphosis to become a haven for the geek community and lovers of comics and games in Central Vermont.
The Book Garden came into Powell’s life shortly after he moved to Vermont in 2002. An illustrator by trade, Powell struggled to find work locally. After spotting a “For Sale” sign outside of what was then a small used-book store, he saw an opportunity. “I came in and Doug Delmore, who was the previous owner, had been doing it for three years as a ‘Rivendell Lite.’ It didn’t have a great selection, but it was interesting. I thought, ‘This could be fun.’ So, my wife at the time and I talked about it, and we decided to buy it,” Powell recalled.
Powell’s experience as an illustrator influenced the store’s evolution as he focused on building an inventory of visually interesting books. “Graphic novels and comics lend themselves to that, but other books—books with a lot of imagery in them—are always something I’ve been attracted to,” Powell said.
Powell reflected on the Book Garden’s place in the community. “People have always said that they really like the vibe. They come in, and I think people feel comfortable here. They feel they are surrounded by the stuff they love,” Powell said. “It’s become integral to the retail identity of the community.”
In recent years, Powell felt an increasing desire to focus on his art with the goal of becoming a fine artist. It wasn’t a decision that came easily. “I was always sort of torn. I never had enough energy to put toward the store and the art at the same time, so in the last couple of years, I got serious about letting go of the store and focusing more on art,” he explained.
Upon learning that Powell was looking to relinquish the Book Garden, Carey immediately offered to buy it. “I wasn’t ready to see the Book Garden change hands, go away, or become something else. I really do want the shop here, so I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it,” Carey said.
Carey intends to keep most of his changes to the Book Garden modest, explaining he understands customers enjoy the store the way it is. He does plan to update the book selection to include more young adult fiction and a few titles customers have been requesting.
While the Book Garden generally attracts a younger clientele, the store’s focus on beautiful books means there is something for all readers. “We have a very eccentric and eclectic selection here,” said Carey. “We’ve got books on foraging, kids graphic novels, and board games. We provide a fun space where people can come in and find something that really interests them.”
A new feature of the Book Garden will be a dedicated gaming room in what was previously the store’s shipping and receiving space. The gaming room will be open to the public during the store’s normal business hours. In addition, the Book Garden will be hosting new gaming events, workshops, and classes.
The workshops aim to help facilitate Central Vermont’s gamer community to learn and exchange information. “I’ve been reaching out to different people who paint Dungeons & Dragons minis and things like that,” Carey said. “We’ll be holding painting workshops for people of all skills and ages, who can come in and learn from their peers or more advanced painters.”
In addition, the Book Garden will also hold a workshop geared toward young Pokémon players.
“There is a father in Montpelier who started playing Pokémon when his son got really into it,” Carey said. “His son was having a hard time learning the rules, and he’s noticed that a lot of his son’s friends don’t really quite understand the rules, so he’d like to offer a day once a month where people come in and learn to play Pokémon or games like that.”
Starting February 9, the second Sunday of every month will be board game night, featuring regular games such as Settlers of Catan. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Book Garden will offer an assortment of quick, two-player games for “board game speed dating.”
On Wednesdays, Book Garden will host a special role-playing game day called “One-Shot Wednesday,” where a game master guides players through a single session adventure of a variety of games. The Book Garden will also feature “Friday Night Magic” events for players of the Magic: The Gathering card game to gather and play.
While the Book Garden does not carry video games, Carey acknowledged a passionate yearning from Central Vermont’s gamers for a local venue for Super Smash Brothers tournaments. The tournaments will likely take place once a month. Carey said he hopes community events will build upon and strengthen the already loyal community that surrounds the Book Garden.
Carey said his goal is to keep the Book Garden as a presence in Montpelier for another 15 years.