Keri Thomas-Whiteside is the new owner of Westside Stories secondhand book shop, a name familiar to book lovers in Buffalo since it has been an anchor to a revived Grant Street on the city’s West Side since 2011. The store changed hands – and locations — in the last few years and Thomas-Whiteside is the third owner of the store. It has a new location at 398 Grant Street and new energy as Thomas-Whiteside brings her passion as a former librarian to the challenge of putting her own stamp on the shop, reaffirming the store’s place in the neighborhood and, of course, selling books to Buffalo’s many book lovers. Here’s what she had to say about her own West Side story.
Visit Buffalo Niagara: What inspired you to purchase Westside Stories?
Keri Thomas-Whiteside: We are lucky to be neighbors of the store’s original owners, Joe and Jeanenne Petri, so we saw the store come into being. It was a special part of the neighborhood, and we were frequent visitors. When the store closed and sold during Covid, it hit everyone pretty hard. I happened to see the Facebook post that the store was for sale again, I sent a text just to see what it would involve. Everything after that just happened pretty quickly and we had a bookstore!
VBN: Are you an avid reader or book collector who visits bookstores whenever you travel?
KTW: My husband, Bob, is the avid reader in the house. He usually has multiple books going at the same time. I’m the person that has the large pile to get through and is still adding to it. I was a librarian until I left to start this journey, so I always made a point to visit libraries when we traveled. If we saw a bookstore, we would pop in though I’m sure that will now be our priority.
VBN: Do you have a favorite bookstore? Does it serve as inspiration for how you hope to attract customers to Westside Stories?
KTW: My favorite all-time is the late, lamented The Village Green on Elmwood (showing my age on that one!). It was just the first one I really connected with as a customer since I grew up going to ones in the mall. I’ve had some others I’ve enjoyed through the years Symposium Books and Books on the Square in Providence, RI were visited a lot when we lived there. We also have been customers of Rust Belt Books since the Allen Street days. Talking Leaves is my new book spot.
Of course, we were big fans of the original Westside Stories, and that store is probably the largest inspiration. I want people to have that same feeling they had when it was down the street. Joe created a great community around the store and I’m hoping to carry that on.
VBN: There’s a lot of competition from online booksellers today; why should book lovers buy their books from stores like Westside Stories?
KTW: I think people should buy from myself or another local bookstore because we’re a part of the community. Our customers aren’t just numbers and dollars, they are our neighbors, and we try to do right by them. We’re also usually trying to help other local groups, artists, crafters, and businesses succeed as well.
VBN: Does Westside Stories have an area that it specializes in or non-book items it sells?
KTW: We don’t have a specialty. The motto I came up with for the store is “Interesting books for curious readers of all ages”. The librarian in me wants everyone to find a little something though that doesn’t mean I will carry just anything. I try to carry a diverse collection of authors in all genres and subjects. It’s important to me that lesser-known voices are heard.
VBN: How do you feel about being a part of the Grant Street neighborhood?
KTW: I’ve lived in the neighborhood for almost 15 years. We were really seeing a lot of momentum in the neighborhood with new businesses, especially immigrant and refugee owned businesses, and then Covid hit. The losses were hard to overcome, and we had many closures. I think losing Sweet_ness 7 and the community built around it is still hard. Then West Side Bazaar had the fire and that was devastating. I’m hoping that things can start to bounce back, and I hope to be a part of that future for the neighborhood. There is a strong sense of community here and people looking out for each other.
VBN: Do you feel like you are a part of a larger literary community in Buffalo given that there are a number of bookstores and events like Babel?
KTW: I don’t feel a part of that yet, but that’s just because we are so new and might just be getting on the radar for people. The bookseller community in Buffalo is very supportive and have been incredibly helpful as I’ve started on this journey, especially Meg from Alice, Ever After who is probably our biggest cheerleader and champion. I think as we grow and get more well-known, those connections will probably start to fall into place.
VBN: Favorite book?
KTW: Ugh, I don’t have one! But I loved Encyclopedia Brown growing up. Some that I’ve loved are: “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, “Confessions of a Mask” by Yukio Mishima, and “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh are the ones coming to mind right now. I read all over the place!
VBN: Favorite author?
KTW: A few: Joan Didion, Samantha Irby, Karen Russell, and Roxane Gay are at the top right now.
VBN: What’s on your nightstand being read or waiting to be read?
KTW: I have a few cookbooks I’ve been meaning to go through. A good cookbook should have a good narrative, as well as a bunch of good recipes. We have our first book club on April 4th with Progressive Book Club 716, so I need to read that book “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi.