WORDS: A Local Bookstore Thinks Globally

GlobalSOMA recently spoke with Jonah Zimiles, the owner of WORDS, an independent bookstore located in Maplewood village.  WORDS was named the best independent book store in the State of New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly for two years in a row (2010 and 2011).  The store has been profiled in Entrepreneur Magazine and featured on MSNBC’s weekend show on small businesses.

Check out this short video and read part of our conversation.

GlobalSOMA:  So Jonah, tell us about yourself.

Jonah:  My wife and I moved to Maplewood in 1990 and have two children, a son and a daughter, both raised in this community.  I practiced as an attorney for many years, then served as the National Director of Planned Giving for The Jewish Federations of North America, one of the premier international Jewish philanthropic organizations.  When my son was diagnosed with autism, I decided to become a stay at home Dad.  At age 49, I went back to school at Columbia University for an MBA in Social Enterprise and Business Consulting.

GlobalSOMA:  Tell us about Words.

Jonah:  In 2008, my wife Ellen and my son were walking in the Village and saw that the local bookstore, Goldfinch, was going to close.  Both my wife and I thought it was really important for our town to have a book store, so we decided to step up for the community and open WORDS, not only as a book store but also as a community gathering space and a place for autism training and resources.

GlobalSOMA:  You also have a strong international focus right?

Jonah:  Definitely.  One of our critical goals in opening WORDS was to provide a place for Maplewoodians to learn about and be exposed to global issues and culture.  And you’ll see that in the store.  Right up front we have our World Literature section.  We’ve also integrated a World Culture section into our children books area.  I also founded the Maplewood Foreign Affairs Magazine Club, and we stock many of the books that are featured in that magazine.

GlobalSOMA:  I hear that you bring in authors to WORDS to speak.

Jonah:  I love bringing authors to WORDS to talk about their books.  We’ve hosted a number of best-selling authors, such as Maplewood resident Alan Paul who wrote Big In China about his family’s experiences in China and about his success as a Blues musician there.  We also had Maplewoodian Jon Michaud, who wrote the novel When Tito Met Clara, which is about the experience of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, as well as Kim Barker, who wrote Taliban Shuffle about her reporting on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Other speakers have included three former governors — Mario Cuomo, Tom Kean and Dick Codey — so we at WORDS really take seriously our role in expanding the dialogue in our community.

GlobalSOMA:  Where does your passion for thinking globally come from?

Jonah:  I’ve always had it.  I studied three languages in high school, and in College, I majored in American Diplomatic History and International Relations.  When I was an attorney, a significant part of my practice involved international clients and issues.  And my work at the Jewish Federations of North America was about understanding and philanthropy across borders.  So I really do believe in a global South Orange and Maplewood, a warm, welcoming community that embraces people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives.

GlobalSOMA:  Well, Jonah, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Jonah:  Thank you.  And as we like to say at Words, think globally shop locally.

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WORDS is located at 179 Maplewood Avenue in Maplewood, New Jersey.  Visit www.wordsmaplewood.com for more information.

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