Now that my husband is out of his sling, we occasionally explore picturesque small towns on the weekend. And so we went to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where the Book Vault is the cornerstone of Christmas shopping.
We had been looking for a copy of Richard Powers’s The Overstory. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it is an ecological novel that centers on trees. Oddly, this well-reviewed book is sold out at the Bookworm in Omaha, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Barnes and Noble in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids, and Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.
Lo and behold! The Book Vault had the book.
“It’s the last copy in the midwest,” we told the three women behind the counter.
The Book Vault really is one of the loveliest bookstores I’ve been to. Located in a 19th-century bank building, it has three floors, an illuminated stained glass ceiling, period light fixtures, a balcony, and two vaults full of books. The store was founded by librarians Nancy Simpson and Julie Hansen in 2005. It is owned by The Musco Corporation, a sports lighting company headquartered in Oskaloosa, which has also generously contributed money to the small local Quaker-founded university.
The Book Vault has a marvelous selection of literary fiction and nonfiction. Honestly, you can find all the latest books there. (The good ones, not the junk.). There is also a cookbook section and test kitchen in the back.
But we weren’t finished yet. Next door is Smokey Row, a coffeehouse and restaurant. This is by far the nicest of the four Smokey Rows (the others are in Pella, Pleasantville, and Des Moines). The one in Oskaloosa is by far the least hectic, and the coffee is excellent.
You can also buy Smokey Row mugs. Yup. All your shopping can be done in Oskaloosa (population 11,463, according to the 2010 Census).