Anthony Miller, a writing studies major with a minor in film, interned at Winding Way Books in Lancaster City. Read more below about Anthony’s experiences working at a bookstore, marketing a business on Facebook, and joining a community of book lovers. Looking for an internship of your own? Visit the ELCM website to learn more about internship opportunities.
Over the course of the 2019 Spring Semester, I took advantage of a unique internship opportunity at Winding Way Books in Downtown Lancaster. Prior to applying for the internship, I’d been into Winding Way’s former location and made several purchases. I was impressed by the store’s wide range of literary classics, sci-fi and fantasy. However, it was among the extensive nonfiction selection that I made my most valuable finds, picking up one of the most relevant books to my education so far, A History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook. As an English major, the bookstore existed as the perfect site for intellectual exploration. Whether they were part of a chain or independently run, bookstores throughout my childhood and young adulthood have forged my reading habits, so I was interested in being behind the scenes creating a similar environment for other readers. Eventually I was connected more closely to Winding Way by a coworker of mine who was friends with the owner, Melody Williams. From there I contacted Melody by email and we scheduled our initial meeting.
Seeing as I was the first ever intern at Winding Way, Mel and I got together to discuss the general expectations and requirements of the internship. From this brainstorming session, I was designated to perform a handful of general tasks: to spread the word about Winding Way and expand its consumer base, sort and shelve books while keeping inventory, supply written content to the official Facebook page to pique customers’ interest in the inventory, and run the cash register and help out customers while Mel was running her endless list of errands for the bookstore.
The first of my obligations was trying to extend the reach of the store across Lancaster, which I attempted in a number of ways. Primarily, Mel had me walk across the city handing out her customized bookmarks, which display the Winding Way contact information and a small map directing people to the new location on Chestnut Street. I was initially nervous about this simple job because of the anxiety imparted by a stranger’s attempt to sell a product or idea. Eventually, however, my nervousness about confrontation subsided in the wake of a number of people’s genuine enthusiasm. Of course I heard more people saying they’d stop in than those that actually did, but every new customer that I recognized from one of those interactions (of which there were a good few) reinvigorated me for the next time I was out on the town with a stack of bookmarks.
The bookmarks were also useful for posting on community boards across the city. From House of Pizza to Farbo Co to coffee shops to burrito joints, I strolled around town, further familiarizing myself with Lancaster, and hoping to further familiarize Lancaster with Winding Way Books. Various small business owners were more than happy to accommodate our advertisements which was inspiring to witness. One employee at Farbo Co even helped clear their community store to accommodate for a bookmark. Admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised to experience such altruistic thinking across store owners and their employees, which seemed to boil down to a basic commitment to helping out other independent businesses.
Although it took me a little time to truly take the advertising/networking portion of the internship by the scruff of the neck, I ultimately overcame the reluctance to confront random people with my “message” about the bookstore’s worth to the community. It helped immensely that I truly believe in the bookstore’s goals as a business so I never had to force myself to mislead or manipulate like a stereotypically cynical salesperson. When I was talking to people about the adventures inherent to Mel’s shelves, I really meant it. Eventually, with my growing awareness of the bookstore’s contents and an easing anxiety concerning street chats, I was able to name specific books that I thought potential customers would be interested in. After talking with one passerby about films and screenplays, he eventually ended up reserving a shooting copy of the script of Firefly, a cult television show.
As someone pursuing a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Writing Studies, the written portion of the internship was the segment of my internship that most directly addressed my degree. Early in the internship Mel granted me access to the Winding Way Facebook page, where I was able to respond to customer requests and questions. Primarily though, I used the Notes page to post book reviews, which Mel coined “First Impressions”. Throughout the course of the semester I would select one of the books from an author that I hadn’t heard of before, read the first chapter or two, and write a page long review of the content of the book, trying to describe the distinct merits of the story and the way the story was written.
Depending on the author, I would emphasize different aspects of the work’s overall impact. Thomas Pynchon for instance, inherited a cult reputation due to long, zany phrases peppered with pop culture and obscure vocabulary; therefore, I focused on his unique compositional style because that seemed to be the defining characteristic of his literature. Zora Neale Hurston on the other hand was more known for her contributions to African American literature, writing dialogue for her characters that felt directly recorded from her experiences; therefore I expressed her monumental influence on other black writers in their efforts to seize back the narrative of their people from racist whites. These First Impressions gave me an opportunity to advance my writing by forcing me to interact with new writing, consider its context and composition, and articulate it in a measured, accessible manner.
One of the best parts of this experience was feeling like part of a community. A bookstore community is diverse, consisting of lone drifters, couples hanging out, flocks of friends, and families out for the day. The variety of people within these categories is impossible to comprehensively explore. Just as any particular piece of writing eludes categorization, so does any person seeking one out. Despite the diversity characters stopping by Winding Way, they were all brought into the bookstore by the same thing that brought me into the English major in the first place: a love of getting lost in the written word. Because of this central similarity, I was able to connect with almost everybody. I’ve traded both short anecdotes and long detailed monologues about what I’ve read, what I love to read, and what I plan to read next. Although bookworms are stereotyped as introverted and shy, I’ve had many animated discussions with the people at Winding Way. Although I love my private headspace, bridging the gap between two minds is a fulfilling experience. There was no shortage of interesting bridges built over the course of this internship. One afternoon I was talking to an aspiring writer in the bookstore for about an hour as she explained her conversion to Buddhism, ultimately recommending a book from our spirituality section.
Everybody that I remember walking in were patient, kind and curious. Some came in knowing exactly what they wanted. Others were just interested in exploring the space for a moment or two. A bookstore is the only place I can think of where browsing and not buying is an activity in and of itself. To briefly dip your toes into various articulations of art, science and history is an experience offered by few other business models. I tried to take that opportunity whenever I had the chance.
Overall, my internship at Winding Way Books was an educational experience that made a prominent mark on me. Not only was I able to make intellectual explorations by engaging with a vast catalogue of art and knowledge, I was also able to explore socially by mingling with outsiders to the bookstore, and more enjoyably, insiders. In addition, my writing became stronger by virtue of my increased exposure to good writing and my efforts to explain its goodness through short, concise reviews. I would recommend this internship to any English student at Millersville who is looking to expand their literary palette while also increasing their familiarity with downtown Lancaster.