By Andrew Harrington and Nick Agostinelli
Brockport, NY- Books are Sarah Bonczyk’s life. From her childhood just outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Brockport’s Main Street, she has carried her love for reading all along the way.
Bonczyk came to Brockport as a college student and now devotes her life to spreading a love of books to others. Bonczyk and her husband, John Bonczyk run the Lift Bridge Book Shop on Main Street where Sarah spends her time developing relationships with customers and employees alike.
“There’s a lot of awesome things about [Brockport],” said Sarah. “I like that small town feel…the nice things about that are that you know people that shop here that are an essential part of us being here.”
Sarah discovered a love for reading at her elementary school library, and would spend a lot of time reading as many books as she possibly could.
“Everything was much smaller than what you would find in New York,” said Sarah. “It had a good library and great librarian [who] realized how much I was devouring books and was able to supply [the books] for me.”
Sarah met her husband, John, when she took her oldest son to his mother’s child care center. They immediately bonded over common interests, which included their shared love of reading.
“I went to SUNY Brockport and I ended up working for John’s mom,” said Sarah. “He was working [at the bookstore] part-time and we would share books. It was something that we always naturally had in common.”
John Bonczyk shares this same joy in reading and says he knew that Sarah would be an ideal co-owner of the bookstore.
“[Sarah] is so self-motivated, she doesn’t need praise from anybody,” said John. “That self drive is partly what has kept me going too, you can’t own your own business without that [self-motivation] or you won’t be in business long.”
Bonczyk said that she feels even closer to the village because her husband grew up in Brockport and they have shared many great memories there, including raising four kids. She wanted to own this store because she has always felt a connection to reading and she associates it with growth.
“Understanding that involvement with books whether you are a child or an adult, in some way, having that apart of your life[truly] enriches your life,” said Sarah. “And that is really important to us [as a bookstore].”
Sarah prides herself on making customers feel comfortable and growing that connection through books.
“We are a safe place,” said Sarah. “Believe it or not, most of my job is [spending time listening to people] and that is something that you can’t get online shopping. A lot of people come in here for interaction…the people that [shop here] are very genuine.”
John Bonczyk echoes this same mentality about how to run the store.
“We try to do our best to make people feel comfortable here,” said John. “People come in [the store] and share things with us that I don’t know if they share at other places. It definitely feels like a safe place.”
“We want this to be a comfortable and safe place that people enjoy coming to,” said John Bonczyk. “So often you will go to a store and go ‘I have to go in there. I need to go in there.’ We didn’t want that.”
Sarah and John Bonczyk want people to actually be willing to go into the store, rather than feeling like they need come in and shop.
“We want people to go ‘I want to be in there. It’s enjoyable to be in there.’ We try our best to make people feel comfortable here,” said John Bonczyk. “We want to make this an enjoyable place for everybody to come to”.
John said that Sarah’s best trait is her kindness to the customers.
“She genuinely believes that all people are good,” said Bonczyk. “We joke that half the time we are part-psychologists, and she is very good at accommodating [the customers].”
Annie Crane, an employee and friend, has worked at Lift Bridge for almost thirty years. She has known Sarah for around five years and is confident in Sarah’s ability to lead.
“[Sarah] is hard-working, she cares about the family and she has a good business sense,” said Crane. “She gives straightforward instructions and takes advice well to ensure the success of the store.”
Sarah wants to nurture a love of reading in her children and the next generation so that bookstores like her own can live on.
“We have books in every single room of our house,” said Bonczyk. “We get advanced reader copies of books so [the kids] don’t realize that they are spoiled. They have their own shelves of books that they can read at anytime as well as read together [as a family].”
“With my 11 year old, we literally have to take a lightbulb out because he will just continue to sneak and read till all hours of the night,” said Bonczyk.
Family and books go hand in hand for Sarah and John. The connection that they have created with the surrounding community is also important to them. Sarah said that she is passionate about kindness.
“We try to do our best to make people feel comfortable here,” said Bonczyk. “People come in [the store] and share things with us that I don’t know if they share at other places. It definitely feels like a safe place.”
Bonczyk said that she wants this bookstore to be a part of this community in the future and continue to spread a love of books to the surrounding residents in all age groups.
“We want to be here [and] keep this place open,” Bonczyk said. “It has such a history and if this place were to close I think that would take away from this [Main Street] community.”
From the south to the north, one thing stood as a steady constant for Bonczyk in her life and that is the power of books.
From the smoky mountains of Tennessee to the flowing waters of the Erie Canal, there has been one constant in Bonczyk’s life: the power of books, and she hopes to spread that power to all the people around her.