In the sleepy, dirt-dusted town of Hanapepe on the idyllic island of Kauai’s west side, there stands a brick-and-mortar tribute to ink on paper. Quaint, full of character and somewhat eerily situated next door to a decrepit movie theater, Talk Story Bookstore is an off-the-beaten-path treasure for word lovers and those appreciative of the art of rummaging for a good find.
Unlike so many modern bookstores that have died in the age of e-readers, Talk Story is sweetly old-fashioned and very much alive. There are used books, new books and out-of-print books. There are books so rare that they’ve been valued at $2,000. Stacks of comic books, vinyl records and vintage sheet music fill the shelves, along with a small selection of locally made gifts and bric-a-brac. All told, 100,000 unique titles are packed within the shop’s four walls, of which Celeste, a slinky white cat, is the self-appointed guardian.
Welcome to America’s westernmost bookstore—and the only bookstore on the island. Arguably, it is also one of the most charming book dens in the world.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended late-night hours on Fridays, Talk Story has something for everyone, from beach reads and cookbooks to volumes dedicated to architecture and Hawaiiana. There are 3,000 second-hand titles and 4,000 titles for young adults. Book prices range from $4 to $1,500.
Just as interesting as Talk Story’s inventory is the store’s origin. The ever-growing business is the passion project of Ed and Cynthia Justus, who visited Kauai for the first time in 2002 on their honeymoon and never left.
“We certainly never planned to have a bookstore,” says Ed, who lived in Virginia prior to moving to Kauai. “My wife and I came here on our honeymoon vacation and we liked it so much that we decided to never go back. And when the company that we both worked for by computer and by telephone found out that we weren’t coming back, we both got fired from our jobs on the same day. So, that was that.”
For six years the couple made a living buying up books, furniture and odds and ends around the island and selling it on eBay. Then, in a twist of fate, they were offered a retail space in Hanapepe. The space was formerly a food and clothing shop operated for more than half a century by a local family. The deal was this: The Justuses could have the space, rent-free, for one month only. In that time, they could test out a business of their own invention. The Justuses agreed.
Unsure of what to do with the place, the couple began by using it to house their eBay inventory, which at the time included 3,000 second-hand books and a variety of knickknacks. A month later, they put a sign on the door. Today, their haphazard business venture has become an internationally known mecca of books.
“We certainly never expected it to become what it is today,” says Cynthia. “At the end of that first month that was rent-free, we had made just enough money to pay rent on the place or pay rent on the home we were renting, so we paid rent on the retail space, moved out of our home and moved into our van that we parked right out front of the store. Technically, we were homeless. Our cats were allowed to sleep in the store, but we weren’t.
“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.”
3785 Hanapepe Rd., Hanapepe, Kauai, (808) 335-6469, talkstorybookstore.com.