Nestled in the heart of Cherry Creek North, the Hermitage Bookshop is one of Denver’s oldest independent bookstores. As you approach the shop at 290 Fillmore St., what first catches your eye is likely to be the green and gold arch sign hovering just above the sidewalk at the top of the descending stairway. As your gaze is drawn down the stairs, the rest of you will likely follow, whether you intended to visit the store or not.
Approaching the door, you might already feel something visceral, and somewhat indescribable. Perhaps it’s enchantment, or adventure, or solitude, or knowledge, or a million other things pulling you almost unconsciously through the front door. “When people first walk in the door, you can almost hear them sigh because they think it’s just one of the prettiest, most welcoming sights you could see,” says Bob Topp, owner of The Hermitage Bookshop since its founding in 1973.
Indeed, as patrons move through the shop, what they see is a clean, organized, well-lit, and comfortable store and space. There is nice, cozy furniture up front and in the back and alcoves that go down the center aisle. On the left you’ll see a plethora of history books, on the right mostly humanities. The entire back wall is mostly children’s books—no doubt at least in part due to Topp’s personal passion for the genre.
The clean, almost caretaker vibe extends all the way from the store’s atmosphere to the physical space to the individual books themselves. While it is a used book store, you will never see stacks of books piled on the floor and toppling over, or dilapidated, crumbling novels on the shelves. “We cover all of our books in book jacket covers, so everything is clean and kept in excellent condition,” Topp explains.
This deep, intrinsic respect and love for books of all kinds is what drives not only the general mission behind his business, but also the revolving and steady flow of inventory that comes and goes from The Hermitage Bookshop’s shelves. “The most exciting thing about what I do—aside from my respect and love of books—is the unpredictable, exciting nature of my business. I would have to say that not a week goes by, even after 46 years, that I don’t see something I’ve never seen before—it’s always such a pleasure to open the door every day, because you never know what you’re going to see,” Topp says. “And to have that much vibrancy in a business after so many years is really fulfilling,” he adds.
Topp says he purchases about 200 to 300 books each week to maintain this exciting flow of special books to and from his shop. On any given day, the 200-square-foot shop has about 23,000 books on its shelves. The types of books bought and sold each week are as diverse as any general book store—from Western Americana to Victorian yellowbacks, literature, literary first editions, signed editions, sets and fine bindings, military, illustrated, hunting and fishing, travel, history, art, gardening, poetry, graphic novels, children’s, and more.
While about 20 percent of the inventory is rare, collector books, Topp emphasizes The Hermitage is a general—not just rare, book shop. “The aspect of our shop that makes us unique is more about the quality of our inventory, and that we carry all used and all hardback books,” he says, adding, “We just focus on the quality of the writer and the book.”
In fact, Topp says he often finds people who have not visited the shop have a lot of different misconceptions. “Some might have the idea that our books are too expensive or too old, or that we only sell certain types of books,” Topp says. “The truer statement is that if you are a reader, you’ll absolutely fall in love with our shop. And if you like show and tell, we’re always willing to share—we love talking to anyone about all kinds of books.”
Speaking of show and tell, as mentioned above, Topp’s top passion (pardon the pun) is for the genre of children’s books. In fact, he’s been reading aloud to kids every week for the past 25 years at Bergen Elementary Schools—where his kids went years ago—in Evergreen. He even started a web project, Read Me a Story, Ink (readmeastoryink.com), for use by teachers, educators, parents, or anyone who enjoys reading to children. The website provides printable and audio stories by award-winning authors, numerous recommended reading lists for various ages, links to other wonderful and diverse children’s sites, and an index of more than 1,500 short stories perfect for reading aloud.
“I believe that reading aloud is one of the absolute nicest activities for adults and children to share. It creates warm bonds, opens a child's mind to new ideas, forms topics of discussion to keep the lines of communication open, and provides a positive example to inspire children to become lifelong readers,” Topp says.
Topp feels fortunate to have been able to share his love of books and reading with so many people and for so many years. So, it’s not surprising that, when asked about any future plans for the business, Topp replies, “At this point I have no exit strategy, and I don’t really want one.”
The Hermitage Bookshop
290 Fillmore St.
Denver, CO 80206
Lindsay Mitchell is a Colorado Springs based writer, content marketer and lifelong bookworm. In addition to Colorado Expression, she writes for Southwest Art and several blogs and online publications in the arts, health, lifestyle, home and design industries.
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