The store now known as Talking Leaves came into being in June 1971, founded by Kate Selover as everyman’s bookstore, a replacement for and homage to the storied Student Bookstore that had thrived across the street from the University of Buffalo until the late Sixties as an exciting and vibrant hangout for University faculty and visiting writers, students and community members. When Ms. Selover decided to move to New York City to open a bookstore in the fall of 1974, a small group of customers raised the money (via what we now call crowd-sourcing) to purchase the store and turn it into everyone’s book cooperative. The purchase was completed and the change to everyone’s took place on January 1, 1975. The store grew rapidly, signing up over a thousand members in our first few years, hosting writers, readings, films and other book events. The regulations about cooperatives in New York, enacted in large part for small producer entities, proved difficult for us to meet, so in 1978 we reverted to a regular corporation owned by the two remaining co-op founders, Martha Russell and Jonathon Welch, and in 1979 we became Talking Leaves, a name reflective of our interest in language and storytelling, poetry and narrative from pre-literate times up to our present print culture, and in books as both objects and vehicles of culture and communication. As the motto of the new logo Buffalo artist Michael Morgulis designed for us states, “word is seed.”
Over the next decades, we moved a few times into larger spaces in the University Heights neighborhood of our birth, continuing to grow our membership, our community relationships, and our inventory. When the great independent bookstore shrinkage in the U.S. occurred over the decade of the 1990’s, with the growth of the superstore chains and the rise of Amazon, Talking Leaves was the sole surviving independent bookstore in Buffalo. In July 2001, at the request and with the support of residents and businesses in the Elmwood Village, an urban neighborhood in the city near Buffalo State College with a strong core of local independent businesses, we opened a second store, again via crowd-funding provided by many of those residents and businesses.
Changes in the book industry, particularly in student book-buying habits, along with changes in the University Heights neighborhood as the University relocated much of its population and programming to a new suburban campus several miles away, forced us to close our beloved original store in the summer of 2017, after several years of declining sales. Our store in the Elmwood village continues with strong community support, located within easy walking distance of two world class art museums, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center; the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society; a few of Buffalo’s iconic architectural masterpieces (by Henry Hobson Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Saarinens); stunning vernacular Victorian homes; and Delaware Park, the jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted’s unique city-wide park system.
Our original vision, to provide the best books from the past, the present and the future, and a safe and welcoming place for readers and writers to meet and engage with the ideas contained in them, continues unabated. Please join the conversation, in the store or online. Access to a diversity of perspectives, a multiplicity of voices, makes us stronger and wiser, as a community, as a culture, and individually.