Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay, NY
Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay, NY, my home away from home, is nestled in the historic, waterfront hamlet on the North Shore of Long Island. It’s the pride and joy of owner Steve Israel, book lover and former congressman who envisioned a space that inspired learning and the exchange of ideas. Theodore’s is a world away from the heated environment that politics can brew.
I never wondered why the name Theodore’s Books? Sure, Oyster Bay, NY, is where beloved former president Theodore Roosevelt once lived, and there are sculptures and imagery dedicated to the popular figure all over the Gold Coast town, but that’s not the only connection I made between the Indie establishment and one of my favorite presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was a well-known fanatic of adventure. Some would say he had an almost child-like drive for exploration. He loved the outdoors, physical activities, and thrived in dare-devil environments that most would shy away from. What better place to start an expedition into exciting worlds unknown than between the covers of a book?
Theodore Roosevelt’s youthful sense of curiosity percolates on the shelves of this cozy bookstore. Afterleaving the polarized environment of politics behind, Steve Israel opened the doors to Theodore’s, and he wanted one message to be very clear: at Theodore’s you’ll find a refuge.
Children, like adults, deserve to escape what feels like an omni-present political battle going on in the world. At 1,528 square feet and nearly 10,000 titles, Theodore’s stocks their shelves with, “books from the left, the right, the middle or nowhere in particular. Some political books and (mostly) non-political books.” And they proudly display a sign that reads: No jerks allowed.
I visited with the store’s incredibly kind staff, Dan, Chloe, and Steve Israel himself, to get their take on what their youngest clientele has been leaning into to find adventures and feed their inner explorers.
Here’s what they had to say:
Is reading an abandoned pastime?
Ines: People are always claiming that books and reading in general are things of the past. That children especially aren’t interested in reading anymore. Steve, what’s your response to that?
Steve: I’ve noticed the decline in a desire for reading and it saddens me. Social media has a grip on society, and with children especially. The algorithms are incredibly savvy and know just how to keep our children’s attention glued to the screen. But there’s nothing quite like sitting with a book and immersing yourself in a world that fills your mind. I want children to experience the joy that comes with reading, which is why I dedicated a table to them in the children’s books section of the store. I want them to be able to grab a book, take a seat, and pause from everything else for a moment so that they can experience the solace that is reading.
What is it about Theodore’s?
Ines: It’s easy for me to list off the things that draw me to Theodore’s—which thankfully is only a twenty-minute drive from my house—the idyllic location, frequent street festivals, family friendly area, etc. But what would you say is a key feature that would be especially inviting for the middle-grade age crowd?
Dan: I think our best feature for middle grade readers is our children’s area. The children’s section that includes fiction and non-fiction books, games, puzzles, and stuffed animals, covers an entire wall and two bookcases. I think we carry more kids’ books than presidential biographies—despite the store’s namesake being a popular U.S. President. I’m particularly proud of the amount of non-fiction titles we carry for kids. There are plenty of non-fiction stories that are as adventurous and interesting as fiction.
Best-sellers of the MG Kind
Ines: What books seem to be consistent fan favorites among the middle grade shoppers of Theodore’s?
Dan: I’ve sold a lot of A to Z Mysteries, I Survived, and Big Nate. We also keep being reminded of our love for Frog and Toad even as adults. In fact, we spend a lot of time reminiscing over childhood favorites; I hand sell the titles The Westing Game and Holes often!
Chloe is our children’s books specialist, keeping that section of our store stocked with the best.
Chloe: I’m proud of our children’s corner of the store. It’s our largest collection, carrying everything from board books to young adult. I keep my eye out for both new releases and classics for younger readers. We maintain our New Releases: Kids, Middle Grade, and YA list up to date with titles we’re all excited about.
The Happenings at Theodore’s for the MG Crowd
Ines: In March of this year, a group of Girl Scouts was selling cookies in the store, which is such a great way to give those hard working little troops a warm, indoor, and cozy place to sell their goods. Does Theodore’s offer other events or opportunities for their middle grade patrons?
Dan: Yes! We recently held a personalized shopping experience for graphic novels and comics. Several young readers came in and shared what their favorites were, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had read through most of the exhaustive list I curated for that event. Including one child that had already read Jeff Smith’s Bone, a personal childhood favorite.
Theodore’s has held bookmark design contests and other activities to connect with kids. We also love it when groups of children come in after school and exchange book recommendations! Sometimes spending half an hour lounging in the chairs up front, discussing what books they’ll trade when finished.
I think we’ll eventually have live music in the store, and we’ll continue to offer more specialized shopping hours. Those types of events are always free, and all are welcome to browse and ask booksellers questions. I’d love it if Theodore’s became a hangout for kids to read and chat.
((If you enjoyed this read, you should check out this article Children’s Bookstores Survive!))
I love to visit indie bookstores during my travels. If you do too and ever find yourself on Long Island, make sure that Oyster Bay is one of your stops. I go there every chance I get. You can grab a cup of Joe at Southdown Coffee, pop into Theodore’s Books for a warm bookish welcome, and later stroll the waterfront streets. Don’t forget to pay Sagamore Hill a visit too!
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