Finding Sərj is a little bit tricky. It's tucked into a downtown building on St. Paul just off the DART line. It's not a heavily trafficked area, with no businesses in the surrounding blocks open past quitting time. It opened at the end of October 2014 and our food writer Scott Reitz popped in a couple weeks later to report on the local food, the books and the little shop's big plans.
After a couple months, I was reminded by a peer that my love for independent booksellers could expand at this new shop. So, on a dreary Friday afternoon (the perfect day for coffee shops and bookstores) I made my first trip to this downtown shop to check out the books.
Co-owners John Walsh and Anne Holcomb hand select a small number of books to line the walls. It's a very small number of books - in a quick count, I numbered about 40 selections - which doesn't allow for much perusing, but might allow a coffee drinker to stumble upon a hardcover copy of T.S. Eliot selections or discover the latest publication from Deep Vellum Publishing Company. (I bought my boyfriend a book of spooky little drawings.)
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But Holcomb and Walsh weren't necessarily trying to create the go-to bookstore. To hear him tell it, he moved to Dallas from New York City to reclaim his humanity, and this store seems to be an extension of that. It's the kind of place I'd pop into if I lived downtown and retreat from my apartment to a quiet place for a place to read and maybe a cup of soup. It's a very human place in a wasteland of sandwich shops and office buildings. As Walsh puts it, Sərj is about simplicity. It's why he uses the Italian hand press for espresso instead of a rumbling machine, and why the walls aren't filled to the brim with books.
Like Wild Detectives before it, the goal here is to be a community gathering spot, more intellectual salon than book store. In an economy difficult for book sellers, this is the second example in Dallas of a different approach to the independent bookstore. Out in Oak Cliff you have cocktails and author talks; downtown they're hopping to host poetry slams or topical debates in the back lounge that will open in the next few months. Both Wild Detectives and Sərj seem invested in creating watering holes for thought in their respective neighborhoods. If Wild Detectives is a place to find your next book club selection, Sərj is where you'll go to grab a birthday party gift. If Wild Detectives is where you go to kick off your shoes and smoke a cigarette over a Pynchon novel on a sunny day; Sərj is where you'll stop in after work, loosen your tie, and listen to two lawyers debate pot legalization.
For now, add Sərj to your list of places you can haul your laptop, drink good coffee, and hear a few jokes. And maybe if something catches your eye, you'll have something new to put on your bookshelf when you leave.
400 North St. Paul St., 469-759-3585, serjbooks.com