‘Hello, Bookstore’, a love letter to the beloved institution of Lenox, now playing in Berkshire

“Hello, Bookstore” will be screened at the Triplex from May 13-19 and at the Crandell on June 10-12. Filmmaker AB Zax and bookseller Matthew Tannenbaum will attend screenings on May 19 and the two June sessions to answer questions from the public. Image courtesy of the film’s website

The new movie”Hello, Library“, an intimate look at the inside approach to selling books at Lenox’s Housatonic Street Pillar The book store, which premiered at last year’s Berkshire International Film Festival, and is currently playing at the Film Forum in New York. He will be back soon, with screenings at the Triplex from May 13 to 19and at the Crandell on June 10 and 12. Filmmaker AB Zax and bookseller Matthew Tannenbaum will be on hand May 19 in Great Barrington and for both screenings in Chatham, to answer questions from the public after each screening.

Tannenbaum bought his company as a young man fresh out of Navy service, just before his 30th birthday, and has been at the helm ever since. Over the past 46 years, he has developed a fanbase in the community and beyond through his personal, non-commercial approach to his work, curating books in a way that encourages questioning rather than solitary browsing, offering quiet and unexpected reading nooks and integrating its merchant counter into the rest of the store, rather than separating it. Bibliophiles on those sunny spring days can enjoy their purchases, accompanied by a glass of wine from Tannenbaum’s neighboring wine bar, Get Lit, at an al fresco table.

Director AB Zax. Photo courtesy of the artist

‘Hello Bookstore’ is filmmaker Zax’s feature debut, which he was inspired to undertake based on visits to the store with his wife, who is from Stockbridge. “The first time I entered, I felt like I was entering a magical world. I had never felt that in a bookstore. It was so personal, so charismatic. Over the years I have become friends with Matt, just watching the way he runs the store and connects with people. I was captivated sitting there. One day, I just felt, ‘This is a movie.’ I wanted to celebrate that atmosphere.

He began filming in 2019 and wrapped the film in time for the shortened 2021 BIFF festival last fall, though the film didn’t turn out anything the way he envisioned. “The original intention was to create a portrait of Matt in the store over the seasons.” Two seasons went like every other two seasons. But when the pandemic hit and the bookstore was forced to close, he quickly found himself covering a crisis. In August 2020, four months after his store closed, Tannenbaum launched a GoFundMe campaign to help keep it afloat. His appeal included a heartfelt message to his customers: “We belong to each other, you and I… Once upon a time, I might have sold books to your parents or grandparents. Today I sell them, at the curb, to you, your children and grandchildren. But if I want to continue, and if you want me to continue, I’m going to need your help. The challenge is real and immediate… Until we can safely reopen our doors, and I just don’t know when that will be, I very humbly ask you to help me through.

His request hit an unexpected nerve. He had set an initial fundraising goal of $60,000, but quickly surpassed that amount. To date, it has more than doubled. (The most recent donation came just four months ago.)

Image from the film “Hello, Bookstore” courtesy of the Film Forum

Viewers of the film, Zax said, use words like “soothing” to describe it, like a bowl of hot chicken soup. An antidote to the times we live in, infused with a tone that reflects the slowed-down inner world we inhabited for a while, when our interactive sense of community crumbled almost overnight. It focuses with great specificity on one man and his store, and also unfolds to show us, through him and him, what we value. “It brought out all these ideas and all these themes, about community, about supporting these places that are so important to us, and about the value of a bookstore.”

Tannenbaum added, “What we seem to be offering is something a little different… It invites a kind of navigation that people have noticed. It is conversation oriented. The motto of the book sale is: “Pile them high and watch them fly”. I just think it’s so obnoxious, all about trading. I’m talking about connecting offers that publishers and authors, writers and publishers, have given us. So the chairs around the front desk and other parts of the store allow for a kind of community within the community.

Zax said his experience tracing The Bookstore’s trajectory through the pandemic crystallized some profound revelations about our compulsion to tell ourselves stories. “It enlightened me that the bookstore is this primordial thing that we need as human beings. It is a continuation of the sharing of stories in the caves towards the castles, where the bards came to share stories with the peddlers passing through the villages. [Matt] is a storyteller.

“Adam just came in with a camera and wanted to tell a story of what a bookstore is to a community,” Tannenbaum said, “and it turns out what a bookstore is to a community is heartwarming.”

Alfonso E. Cramer