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America's quirky capital of books

How tiny Montpelier, Vt., supports three independent bookstores – one with the requisite mascot, Veruca the tortoise. 

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Anders Shemholm, age 11, is walking down Main Street in this Vermont town in shorts and an unzipped jacket even though a nor'easter has just left its callous calling card – 10 inches of snow.

No matter. He seems oblivious to his surroundings as he looks down at the object in his hand, which, surprisingly, isn't a texting device.

It's a book.

Anders is an avid reader – he goes through four books a month – and says there are only two things that keep him from reading more. "Well, yeah, I have to sleep and eat on occasion," he says.

Anders may be unusual for a preteen but not for Montpelierites: People here like their books.

The nation's smallest capital city is home to three appropriately quirky bookstores – not a huge number, unless you consider that the population is only 7,000. Montpelier residents covet bookstores the way San Franciscans do their sourdough bread and Denverites their mile-high air.

"I don't know if there's another town of this size that can support three bookstores. You can't replicate it," says Rob Kasow, who, along with his wife, Claire Benedict, owns Bear Pond Books and Rivendell Books. "There are towns of 200,000 that can't support even one, but this place has three."

These are not big commercial stores he's talking about. Local residents have long resisted chain-stores in their downtown, which includes McDonald's and other fast-food joints. These are independent bookstores, in every sense of the word.


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