Perhaps fittingly for its name, Ghost Palace Books in Thomas, West Virginia, opened its doors on Halloween 2020. The independent bookshop, café, and small publishing press is a worker-owned cooperative located in the town’s small, eclectic and bustling business district, surrounded by restaurants, boutiques and galleries.
But as the town of Thomas’s stature as a tourist destination has grown (it’s a popular draw for outdoor enthusiasts and located near attractions like Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls State Park), one thing was missing: a bookstore. So owners Jen Iskow, Ian Hirsch, and Al Schneider rectified that.
While the shop, located in an old house, is small, the selection of books is impressive.
“It’s a blend. We have new books and used books,” Al says. “We’re getting a lot of donations, we seek things out, and we have a connection with a bookseller in Charleston who sells books as Homeward Bound Books. We have some of his books here as well.”
The selection spans the bulk of the first floor, with an additional room of used books upstairs, along with a sitting area for reading, working, and enjoying items from the attached café, which offers a selection of house-made pastries and coffees.
“Everything is made from scratch,” Al says, “including the pastry dough and our ricotta cheese.”
A unique component to the shop is a riso printer, which functions like a photocopier mixed with a screen printer. The shop prints zines, books, and art using soy-based ink.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, and summer sets in, business at the shop is picking up after a slow start.
“It was slower than it probably would’ve been,” says Al of opening during the pandemic. “There was a lot of anxiety about is it okay that we’re opening, are we being safe? I think there was just a lot of uncertainty before about what’s okay to do. You want to be caring and safe for other people in your community.”
If the activity I witnessed during my overnight visit to the town (and two trips to the shop) are any indication, Ghost Palace Books has been embraced by its neighbors and should have a bright future in Thomas.
Ghost Palace Books is open Thursday through Sunday and is located at 82 East Avenue (Front Street) in Thomas, West Virginia.