Books, Coffee, Crabs: Lives of a Building

Photo of old Victorian house, with a front porch. The house is light gray with white trim. Two boys are on the porch.

In summer, I often think back to the summers of my childhood. I grew up (ages 2-13) in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware — and I returned there every summer until I finished college. Back then, summers centered around my grandparents’ store: Gingerbread Square Books.

In the above photo, I’m the one sitting and my older brother Ramsey is standing. The photo is from the mid-1970s. It’s before the store’s sign was added to the pediment (if that’s the correct word) above us. I like that you can see, in the darkened interior behind me and above my head, a stack of books resting on a stair.

This building is on Rehoboth Avenue, next to the Post Office (at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and 2nd Street).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the building with the bookstore’s sign. But here’s a painting from 1984 with more vivid color than the older photo. The brick walkway next to the building led to a small courtyard, then a mall with spaces for several stores.

Painting of the side of the building, with a brick walkway next to it. The walkway ends in a courtyard, where there is a shed on one side, and a large building is at the end.

Working at the bookstore shaped me a great deal. I already enjoyed reading the books we borrowed from the library, then the store broadened the array of books I saw.

When I sat at the cashier’s counter, I read when I didn’t have a work task to do, such as restocking shelves. Typically, the store was quiet in the middle part of the day — as tourists were enjoying the beach and ocean.

I inhaled whatever caught my eye: comic books (X-Men, Batman, Richie Rich, Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.), The Three Investigators, colorful children’s books, Choose Your Own Adventures, photography books, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, novels by Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Clancy, etc.

In all that reading, I fell in love with books. I saw them as delivering a kind of magic to transport me to other places and times, seen through the eyes of various characters.

I wanted to someday be able to create that kind of magic, to become a writer when I grew up. That stayed only a desire until my late teenage years, when I started writing stories.

Wasn’t until my 40s that I finished longer projects of novellas and a story collection — after a stretch of too many years when I didn’t write. Now I’m a hobby writer. I still hope to become a full-time writer, but that may have to wait until I retire.

My grandfather sold the property in the late 1990s. The building became Java Beach Coffee House and Cafe. I visited there with my wife and two daughters in 2005. Seeing the building with a different sign and colors and purpose was surreal…

The same Victorian house, now painted yellow-brown with a medium-brown trim. The sign reads Java Beach Coffee House and Cafe.

My family visited earlier this year, and we saw that the building became Claws Seafood House. Not only a new sign and colors, but a side room was added. Also, the brick walkway leading to the mall is blocked. The mall became The Pines restaurant, with an entrance on Baltimore Avenue.

The same Victorian house, now painted white with red trim. The sign reads Claws Seafood House and has a crab on it.

Now the only bookstore in town is Browseabout Books, an independent store. It used to be a competitor to our family business. Times and minds change. I enjoy visiting Browseabout, and I’m very glad it’s still around to serve as a source for books. What is a town without a bookstore? I hesitate to say one without a soul, but then I’m biased due to my love of books. If you ever visit Rehoboth, please check out the store — located at 133 Rehoboth Avenue…

A one-story building with a long green awning that reads Browseabout Books. The windows include displays of many books.

10 thoughts on “Books, Coffee, Crabs: Lives of a Building

  1. Such a good reflection on the history of a house. It is amazing that it has had so many businesses in it over the years. I really like the painting and I am glad that you shared it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very cool, Dave. My family went to Ocean City, NJ, when going “down the shore,” but I’ve been to Rehoboth a few times over the years. Independent book stores are such a great thing. I get a lot of books from Amazon nowadays (sadly), but I love to visit indie stores when I can.

    Liked by 1 person

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