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Bookstore braves the storm with hot cocoa and 'The Sun Also Rises'

Evan Schwartz shovels a path to his book shop, Open Book, in Elkins Park, PA on March 14, 2017.
Evan Schwartz shovels a path to his book shop, Open Book, in Elkins Park, PA on March 14, 2017.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The snow and sleet made the streets of suburban Elkins Park look like Ice Station Zebra on Tuesday, but inside the Open Book bookstore, all was warm and well.

After all, the store had The Warmth of Other Suns.

Amid the storm-driven, regionwide closing of schools and businesses, the couple who run Open Book greeted the cold not by shuttering the door but by inviting all to come gather in light and literature – and to share fresh sugar cookies and steaming cups of hot chocolate.

People did just that.

"Did someone say hot chocolate?" Patti McKinney called out as she came through the door, kicking the snow off her shoes.

She was ready for browsing and conversation. Could there be anywhere better to spend a snowy day than with a book in one hand and a snack in the other?

For two years, Lynn Rosen and her husband, Evan Schwartz, have made the independent Open Book a place to gather, to learn about a great undiscovered book, to enjoy a sense of community – even, or maybe especially, when the weather is nasty.

"Books and free hot chocolate!" exclaimed Lily Wasserman, 13, a student at Cedarbrook Middle School.

She was waiting at the front door when the store opened at 1 p.m. and was soon on the hunt for books by Patrick Ness. She left with eight books under her arm.

It turned out that on a day when wind whipped the snow, business too was brisk.

"I've always loved books, loved publishing," said Schwartz, taking a seat at the cash register. "People are so passionate about selling the books, reading the books, writing the books."

Nomi Eve, author of the well-known Henna House, was one writer who dropped into the store Tuesday.

"I need a book," she said to Rosen. "I finished what I was reading and I need a suggestion."

She got one.

The store is on High School Road, across the street from the Creekside Co-op in what constitutes the neighborhood business district. The store, grocer, and three restaurants have brought vitality to what had been mostly empty buildings.

Open Book started out more as open box — a couple of dozen books in crates that Schwartz and Rosen would lug to the co-op on weekends, offering a pop-up store where people could browse while shopping for groceries. In late 2014 the store moved to a permanent home, sharing a first-floor space with the Frame House and the Cheltenham Center for the Arts shop.

Today, Open Book is the size of a large living room – one where books take up almost every available space. The store seems to expand every week, adding new selections of children's and teen books and increasing its holdings of fiction, history, and current affairs.

One thing that hasn't changed: The stock is rigorously curated.

Sure, readers can buy Bruce Springsteen's blockbuster autobiography, Born to Run, but Open Book doesn't focus on the big best-sellers. It concentrates on great books that people might not know about. Like, say, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, the revealing chronicle of poet Kathleen Norris' move from New York City to the isolation of South Dakota.

Rosen and Schwartz say each book in the store is a discovery — of an author, an idea, a way of thinking. Even when the world outside is frozen.

"I'm so glad you did this," said Laurie Halse Anderson, coming in off a snowy sidewalk. "What a great idea."

Anderson came not to admire her own books – she wrote Fever 1793, Forge, and others that stand on the Open Book shelves – but to pick out children's books for her grandson.

So what to read on Tuesday? Maybe Smilla's Sense of Snow? Or perhaps The Sun Also Rises?

For McKinney, the ultimate choice of book was less important than the conversation that led up to it. And the certainty that on a cold day, Open Book would be warm and welcoming.

"This store is a great community anchor," she said. "It brings all kinds of people together."