If I had an official list of my favorite bookstores in the world (hm, maybe I should have one), The Montague Bookmill would be on it. During last winter’s snowstorms there was a lot made of the Swedish word “hygge,” and while I still can’t point to a precise definition of this word, I know that the Bookmill has it.
I saw myself spending the whole day there, curled up in the stacks with a cup of hot coffee from the attached cafe, The Lady Killigrew, or perched on the sofa near one of the many bay windows, watching the Saw Mill River roar below. So that’s exactly what I did. All day.
Definitely go if:
You’re a student or researcher looking for a quiet place to study while you build grist for your next term paper, thesis or novel. Or, if you’re simply a nonfiction lover in general. Contrary to what you find at most independent bookstores, I would say the Bookmill’s collection is about 75 percent nonfiction, most of it academic-focused.
This isn’t surprising when you consider its location. It’s about a 20 minute drive from Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College, and not far from Smith College and Mount Holyoke College. The area is sometimes known as the “Knowledge Corridor” because of the high concentration of colleges and universities located in Connecticut and Massachusetts along Interstate 91.
But don’t write it off if:
You’re not a student or researcher and you just want to get away for the day. The Bookmill is a great day trip from Boston or Central Connecticut. That’s because it’s not just a bookstore — the restored Montague Mill hosts five shops in addition to the Bookmill. Two are restaurants: The Lady Killigrew, a low-frills cafe with a great selection of drinks — alcoholic and non — and grilled sandwiches, and The Alvah Stone, which features a more upscale menu. There are also two art studios, Louis Minks and Sawmill River Arts, and an independent record store called Turn It Up!
If you can’t unplug for a whole day (although you really should, occasionally) the Bookmill has free wifi. Don’t bother with your cell phone though. A sign on every wall warns that your cell phone conversation will mask the tranquil sound of the river, so please refrain from cell phone chatter. And besides, I couldn’t get a signal, no matter where I stood.
True to its tongue-in-cheek slogan (“Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), the Bookmill is definitely in a place you can’t find, at least not easily. Peter and I were using a hybrid method of Google Maps and directions from the Bookmill’s website, and still we had to turn around twice to get going the right way.
Also, try to avoid going on Tuesdays. Half of the cool shops that make the Bookmill a good day trip will be closed.