Arts & Culture / Mosaic / September 21, 2009

Books now abound in Galesburg

When Waldenbooks in the Carl Sandburg Mall shut down this past spring, it appeared Galesburg might be left without a bookstore. One man, however, saw opportunity in the community’s loss.

Ben Stomberg, better known as “Stone,” is the owner and mastermind behind Stone Alley Books & Collectibles, the newest addition to Seminary Street. Selling a combination of new and used books, comics and records, the store offers free WiFi and complementary coffee from Kaldi’s. This combination creates an atmosphere perfect for extended book browsing.

“There was an air at Waldenbooks of, ‘come in, get your books, and get the heck out,” said Stomberg. He wanted to create a place where people would be able to take their time and find a good book.

A native resident, Stomberg was born and raised in Galesburg. He attended Galesburg High School, but subsequently left for eight or nine years, becoming involved in the radio broadcasting business.

“I was everything from a random DJ to a program director,” Stomberg said. But when bureaucracy problems left his position in radio uncertain, Stomberg decided to come back to Galesburg.

“I [was] fed up,” he said. “I’d had my run. I ended up back here.”

Once reestablished in Galesburg, Stomberg originally planned to sell comics and records online. In January he began to contemplate opening a full-fledged bookstore. On August 21, Stone Alley officially opened its doors, only seven months after Stomberg’s brainstorm.

“My interest in books up until now was just as a reader,” said Stomberg. “I was the right guy in the right place at the right time. Everything just fell into place.”

Everything continues to fall into place, as business at Stone Alley is booming.

“The response to us opening has been astounding,” Stomberg said, adding that his biggest concern is merely being able to keep enough in stock to meet the demand.

If a desired book, comic, or record is out of stock, however, customers are able to order it through the store. Most new books will arrive within a week, and Stomberg is able to hunt down media that patrons might be unable to find elsewhere. The store’s other unique features include trade accounts, allowing customers to exchange their used books for new ones and applying that credit for up to half of their purchases.

Stomberg is proud of the eclectic nature of the store, noting that there aren’t many places where people can buy both new and used books, in addition to comics and records. He tries to keep a wide variety of material available, more than buyers might be used to seeing elsewhere.

“I’m guilty of ordering books just because I think the title is cool,” he said. “I’ll order things because I think they might be fun to read.”

That strategy seems to be working. More often than not the store is filled with people browsing the floor to ceiling bookshelves, where the attractions not only include remarkably affordable books (paperbacks are $3 or four for $10; hardbacks are $5 or three for $12) but funky decorations as well. Paintings, wooden clocks, and posters encouraging patrons to ‘Read Freely: Shop Indie Books,’ adorn the walls; replicas of sailing ships and what Stomberg referred to as a ‘Rare Spotted Wilson,’ a soccer ball version of the Castaway ‘Wilson’ dot the bookshelves. A record player that looks like an old-fashioned jukebox sits on the front counter while stuffed armchairs encourage people to sit and read a chapter or two.

Stomberg has great enthusiasm for his new store.

“My second tenure in Galesburg is much more enjoyable than my first,” he said. “I get to play Pearl Jam in the store!”

Stomberg has big plans for the future. Three to five years down the road he hopes to begin selling used textbooks and music, although his short-term plans consist mainly of selling books online. Even to get this far, however, has taken a lot of work.

“This is where my family is and they’ve been very good to me,” he said. “I had a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people.”

Stomberg is enthused about having Knox students in the store. This coming weekend he will offer a 10% discount on all purchases with a student I.D., and pointed out, “Books are good. You should read some sometime.”

Stone Alley Books and Collectibles

53 S Seminary Street

Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Katy Sutcliffe

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