Shaker Mill Books owner Eric Wilska stands outside his West Stockbridge store. Photo courtesy of BerkShares
Stockbridge West – Eric Wilska got his start in the book business in 1974 with a loan of $ 4,500 and a dream. The owner of Shaker Mill Books in West Stockbridge first opened The Bookloft in Great Barrington, which he ran for 42 years before moving full time from selling recently released hardcover books to used paperbacks. Throughout his career, Eric has always been involved with used and out-of-print books, and owned two used bookstores in the 1970s and 2000s, Running Fence Books and Found at The Bookloft, respectively. When he was ready to retire – but without giving up selling books altogether – he bought the historic Shaker Flour Mill and its neighboring building in West Stockbridge to continue doing what he loves on his own terms.
At Shaker Mill Books, the slogan is: “Where you always find what you aren’t looking for.” Among the 30,000 books, including used, rare, old, out of print and occasional books, you’ll find a random assortment – from a $ 7 copy of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac to a signed copy of 7 $ 000 a Rolling Stones profile. The bookshop also has the best selection of books on all things Berkshire: history, flora and fauna, and guides to the area. Wilska’s pride and joy, however, seems to be the store’s extensive collection of photography books.
Used books are bought from everywhere, the majority coming from private library downsizing, real estate sales and spring cleaning purges. Every day, he is “greeted by a bag of books on the doorstep.” For newer titles and photography books, Wilska goes to publishers’ book sales. Books that don’t fit on the shelves in the main building or in the nearby historic flour mill are sent to the Housatonic overflow warehouse, a space shared with the Stockbridge Library.
Wilska considers Shaker Mill Books a COVID achievement because a lot of people had nothing better to do than read all day in their forties. Foot traffic in West Stockbridge increased during the pandemic as people moved around the area and sought refuge in populated urban areas. He also regularly meets clients on day trips from all over New England, eager to support popular small town businesses. The merchants of West Stockbridge have supported each other during the recent difficult economic times and collectively shaped the vibe of the town. The change is palpable, said Wilska. “On the days when the cafe opposite is closed, I notice a drop in sales.”
This is an encouraging change from a few years ago, when the boom in online book and e-reader giants threatened the existence of bookstores and many independent stores closed. But second-hand bookstores have a charm that stands the test of time. Contemporaries of Shaker Mill Books, such as The Montague Book Mill and Rodgers Book Barn, are destinations, and Wilska’s store has earned the same reputation. There is always room for more second-hand bookstores and Wilska is inviting new peers. “Bookstores, in particular, have a strong emotional feeling – the loss of a bookstore is sort of the loss of a community’s identity,” he said. Tools like BerkShares help connect people to businesses in their community, build the identity of a small town, and support local culture. As Wilska once said: “It makes sense! “