Sykesville's Main Street book store in running for Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year

SYKESVILLE — A Likely Story Bookstore sits to the left in the building at 7566 Main St. in Sykesville and, on Monday, a sign in the entryway vestibule announced an upcoming hot cocoa crawl, author events — Kate Quinn on March 6 and Nickolas Butler on March 9 — and a short aphorism, “Snow is falling and books are calling.”

The unseasonable warmth Monday might not have matched the sign, but it certainly pulled foot traffic into the bookstore. Like customers Billi Jo Swanson, of Sykesville, and Gloria Gisriel, of Marriottsville, who paused to talk about the bookstore in front of a Valentine’s Day display reading, “Go on a blind date with a book.” The books were wrapped in plain brown paper with red tags.


“Everybody is always personable,” Swanson said of the store. “If you need a suggestion, they are great with that.”

“All of the authors that come in are really cool. It’s nice as some of them are actually local,” Gisriel added. “They get quite a turnout. They sell out so fast!”


Wednesday night was a special one for fans of the novel and film adaptation of “The Notebook” — Nicholas Sparks’ story of Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson — portrayed on the big screen by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. 

A Likely Story’s reputation has now spread beyond Sykesville’s Main Street, and the publishing world has taken notice, as in late January Publishers Weekly named the store to its shortlist for the publication’s annual Bookstore of the Year award. The winner will be announced in March and will be featured in the BookExpo preview edition of Publishers Weekly magazine on May 13.

“We’ve been doing it for approximately 25 years, and it grows out of wanting to recognize bookstores that have done exceptional work,” said Jim Milliot, editorial director at Publishers Weekly. “The woman who nominated them had a very persuasive case. It was someone from a publishing company that works with them. They think they’ve done a really great job over the years in growing and expanding the business.”

A Likely Story is shortlisted alongside Classic Lines Bookstore in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; hello hello books in Rockland, Maine; Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kansas.

“It’s amazing, but we are extremely humbled, too,” said Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story. “We think we’re this little small, historical town bookstore. How can we compete with even the big indies? It’s a huge honor for us.”

It’s exciting for A Likely Story customers, too.

“It’s fascinating,” said Paula Leonard, who dropped by the bookstore Monday around 12:30 p.m. to peruse the books. “I work next door, so I come over here. I pop in at lunch time.”

Leonard has been a big fan of the store’s regular author events, both large and small.

“I went to the Nicholas Sparks one, that was really pretty cool,” she said. “They had one here in a small and intimate group and it was really fascinating to listen to what the author had to say. She was an author who was just coming up and it was interesting to hear her talk about what it takes to get a book published.”

Those author events were particularly impressive to the person who nominated A Likely Story, according to Milliot, who noted the Nicholas Sparks event drew some 1,500 people.

New York Times bestseller Jennifer Chiaverini will make her way out to A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville Sunday evening to discuss her newest work, Enchantress of Numbers.

“It’s these types of things that have set them apart,” Milliot said. “They have good relationships with local schools and book fairs and libraries and, again, a real sense of trying to diversify the offerings they have in the store.”

Being more than just a place to display and sell books is a must for a small bookstore in today’s marketplace, Schellar said.

“As an independent bookseller, you really have to do something outside the box of a normal retail store,” she said. That’s meant intimate book chats where people come to the store to get new recommendations and storytimes for children with costumes.


“We do book fairs at the schools, we bring authors into the schools,” Schellar said. “We really try to have our retail store as our home base and then go out into the community and spread literacy throughout Carroll County.”

Highlighting stores like A Likely Story was one of the things Publishers Weekly was interested in doing in this year’s contest — small stores doing big things outside big cities.

“There is a winner that is picked by a panel of five outside judges that come from past bookstore of the year winners and publishers,” Milliot said. “That is presented at BookExpo, which is the annual trade show for book publishing and book selling, and it’s at the end of May in New York.”

A Likely Story may come out on top in the end of this story, but even being cast as a character is, according Leonard, “pretty great.”

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