I could barely see Walter Effron peeking through the back of the tiny Three Arts Bookstore. Towers of books, over-stuffed shelves and a slightly chaotic desk full of papers hid the shop owner, who looked as if he’d lived and breathed the place for quite some time—and for good reason. Effron took over Three Arts in 1982 in anticipation of his parents’ retirement after nearly 40 years of ownership. When I first approached Effron, he seemed so deeply immersed in his work that I feared disturbing him. Once our conversation began, however, he gladly opened up about the long history which precedes the place we know today.
Effron’s parents first opened Three Arts Bookstore’s doors in 1946 in downtown Poughkeepsie. A smaller offshoot existed in Arlington, where Burger-Fi is now. He explained that business was primarily happening in the downtown area, as Arlington had little commerce before the 1950s. “An employee, a woman who worked for my parents, ran it. The store that was here was only open more or less when Vassar was in session,” said Effron.
As the area became increasingly business-friendly, Effron’s parents decided they should move their primary location out of downtown to Arlington. They enlarged their little store by knocking down a wall, taking over half the area of what is now Burger-Fi. The other half was a linen store from 1956 on. Effron’s parents added the store’s current space in 1964, which they used as an art gallery for monthly exhibits.
But a fire in 1975 suddenly changed the Three Arts Bookstore’s history, burning down the bookshop as well as the linen store and a cinema (located where the Juliet is today). The owners of the building chose to expand the movie theatre rather than rebuild the two independent stores. The founders were only left with their gallery space. Effron explained, “My parents dropped the gallery, and this just became a small store.”
Little has changed since the post-fire renovation of the store’s current space, though he noted, “The computer certainly wasn’t here in 1982.”
Three Arts Bookstore has stayed true to itself since Effron’s takeover, making it a uniquely intimate shop. Effron is the only full-time employee, so his decisions affect not only the store’s supply, but also its atmosphere. In the age of Barnes & Noble, it has become increasingly rare for independent book-owners to single-handedly curate their content. However, Effron has persevered, trying to honor his parents’ legacy. He has also made the bold decision not to create an online presence. “It goes along with the books. It’s an escape from the electronic world. If people are looking for something that’s not in the electronic highway, so to speak, this is for them,” he says. He continues to close on Sundays and doesn’t stay open evenings.
Effron gained the necessary tools to run the store from his father. But understanding how to communicate with salesmen, what quantity of books to order and when to order different types of books were merely the practical stages—more importantly, Effron had to learn what kinds of books his customers would like. He sometimes even has customers in mind for certain books he orders, as he knows they’ll be interested to see them: “[I consider] all the factors, plus a personal judgement of whether the book is a worthwhile book to carry, or whether it’s going to be a well-done book, or the opposite where it’s just kind of a commercial thing that’s trying to put something over on people,” he stated. “Sometimes those are successful, and I don’t have them, but I get them later on. I have to make a lot of adjustments.”
By remaining loyal to the years of work put in by his parents, Effron has created a small time-capsule in the Hudson Valley. The menacing technological world hasn’t frightened him, as he remains confident in the importance of bookstores to help people escape. He’s realized that though many omnivorous readers today choose the convenient clicks of Amazon as their book-purchasing platform, “A high percentage of people who are readers will react the reverse way, where it becomes a little bit of an advantage to be selling books [in person].” Despite working in one of the internet takeover’s most devastated businesses, Effron remains positive and confident. As I walked away from him, looking at his overwhelming collection, I couldn’t help but feel appeased and hopeful.