Kelly Allen-Kujawski lives a bookworm’s dream. The bookbinder and preservationist added antiquarian bookseller to her resume with the recent opening of her used bookstore Rarities.
“I’ve always been an avid reader,” she says, admitting that e-readers make it easy. But, she notes, nothing can compete with an actual book. “A physical book gives you an experience: turning the pages, the weight of the book, the smell of the ink. Old books provide a history themselves. It’s comforting.”
When this former elementary school teacher left the classroom behind after having kids, she knew she wanted to do something in books but didn’t want to pursue editing or proofreading. “I didn’t want to lose the joy of reading.”
She stumbled across a video of medieval bookbinding techniques online and was hooked.
After taking classes in Boston and New Haven, she began bookbinding but quickly moved into preservation. But by early 2019, she wanted to branch out into antiquarian book resale. That’s when she met South County legend Allison B. Goodsell, whose Kingston Hill Book Store had an international following.
Goodsell began training Allen-Kujawski in the art of bookselling. But the lessons were curtailed when the landlord of the Kingston Road store sold the building. Goodsell decided to move her book business online (through AbeBooks.com) and she continues to work with private clients. She also consigned somewhere between eight and ten thousand books for Allen-Kujawski to stock in her store.
Rarities the bookstore is on a subdivided ground floor at 396 Main Street, with the other side occupied by Caf Bar. The door that connects the two makes a heady combination of books and coffee.
Allen-Kujawski caters to the reading preferences of local Wakefield residents: Rhode Island and US history and the classics. She also makes it a point to include shelf space to support local authors.
The well-read neighborhood was hungry for a bookstore, welcoming her with open arms. “There’s been a fantastic response from the Wakefield community,” she says. “The people are incredibly friendly. They tell me ‘it’s so nice to have a bookstore in town again.’”
Allen-Kujawski continues to work as a bookbinder, and you can find her custom journals at Rarities. But now she mostly focuses on restoration and preservation of antique books and documents. With only a handful of preservationists left in Rhode Island (not to mention throughout the US), she’s booked well into 2022.
Allen-Kujawski plans on offering a course on bookbinding in January at her Shady Lea Mill studio space. “It’s a dying craft that’s making a comeback.”
Rarities Books and Bindery • Bookstore: 396 Main Street, Wakefield
Bindery: Shady Lea Mill • 215 Shady Lea Road, Studio 201, North Kingstown
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