Autumn Leaves, Ithaca’s beloved source for used books, boasts “60,000 books, 10,000 records and a café, all under one roof.” In the heart of the Commons (115 E. State Street), the basement of the bookstore contains Angry Mom Records, the ground floor contains the main bookstore, and the second floor doubles as the Owl Café (fair trade coffee, of course) and a space for the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. The Workers’ Center, whose mission statement is that all people are respected in the workplace, have a Living Wage, the right to organize, quality health care, housing, childcare, transportation, and access to healthy food and water, establishes Autumn Leaves as a truly Ithacan bookstore with its advocacy of community activism.
Part of what I love about Autumn Leaves is that it doesn’t care much about being fancy. It’s well lit, with a few choice armchairs and a big sofa upstairs for hunkering down with a new find. There’s just the right balance between orderly, alphabetized shelves, and disheveled piles of books with the air of bemused chickens who suddenly find themselves roosting in a foreign coop. But the store is unconcerned with giant displays of coffee table books, or other gaudy marketing techniques one so frequently spots at commercial bookstores. The wooden shelves are as plain and functional as the grey-flecked tile floor, and the staff tends to leave you alone unless you look particularly lost or you’re staggering under the weight of your armload of books. And to make things even better, there’s a resident golden retriever, who looks just as sagacious as any bookkeeper worth his salt.
The selection is impressive, and not a little eclectic. Graphic novels, rare and antiquarian books, strange 70’s knitting manuals, photo books, history tomes, pulp fiction in plastic sleeves with blond-haired, lipstick-lacquered heroines from the 50’s and 60’s. You want it, chances are Autumn Leaves has got it – in one form or another. Every day, the store puts a large cart outside the front door, full of books at $1 each. I can never walk by without stopping to take a look, and judging by the small crowds of people hovering around it all day, neither can anyone else.
As mentioned, Autumn Leaves offers music as well as books, thanks to their partnership with Angry Mom Records. A normal trip to the basement might include the purchase of a Dylan Thomas record of “A Child’s Christmas In Wales and Five Poems,” and “The Velvet Underground and Nico.” Like the bookstore upstairs, you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for here, but sometimes the best finds are the unexpected ones.
If you’re exhausted after all the book-and-record browsing, the café upstairs offers a nice place to grab a coffee. Often there will be a chess game or a puzzle underway at a nearby table, and plenty of local characters sitting around and chatting. With its many avenues of interest, Autumn Leaves is well worth a visit.
For the love of books, stop in Mon.-Wed. 10:00am-8:00 pm; Thurs.-Sat. 10:00am-9:00 pm; or Sun.11:00am-6:00 pm, at 115 E. Martin Luther King Street.