A Trip to An Unlikely Story in Plainville

This quaint bookshop is a great spot for thoughtful holiday gifts and an afternoon snack.
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Books for every reader line the shelves at An Unlikely Story. Photography by Chris Vaccaro.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover; it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But if you judge the outside of the three-story, stately brick and slate, blue-painted building on the corner of South Street and East Bacon Street, you know by the first look that a quirky space and unique story
lies within. 

A long front porch with rockers bedecks the front of the building, large glass windows lend themselves as a portal to the whimsical world inside and three large signs that hang overhead read: “bookstore,” “An Unlikely Story” and “cafe.”

The inside? A one-of-a-kind space that boasts an old-timey bookstore feel complemented by a modern coffee bar.

Upon entering the bookstore, my nostrils fill with the heavenly aroma of pumpkin spice coffee. I immediately want to curl up on a leather chair with a latte while I flip through the pages of a novel and breathe in that new book smell. Instead, I wander around the exposed brick and wooden-beamed
industrial-looking space, and marvel at the hundreds of books stacked neatly by corresponding genre tucked within the bookshelves. Open books and brooms fly above my head; a scene right out of Harry Potter has come to life before my eyes. A table with a curated gift selection of tumblers, socks, bags and more shout: “we make the perfect gifts,” and to my right, two bookshelves showcase the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. 

You won’t find much more than a small section of the store stocked with the funny children’s books, though. That’s because author of the book, Jeff Kinney, also owner of the Plainville, Massachusetts, bookstore, is keen on promoting literacy of all genres for all ages. Children, teens and adults alike can comb through the store’s thoughtfully edited collection, selected by store managers and book buyers, Emily Crowe and Leo Landry.

But it’s not just bound works bookworms can find at An Unlikely Story. It is author events, yoga, art and ukulele classes, story time, open mic nights, themed trivia nights, poetry slams and so much more. It is a multi-purpose hub for the people of Plainville and beyond to gather with friends, attend an event, work remotely or just read a good book. 

But it wasn’t always that way. Before the bookstore occupied the corner lot in downtown Plainville, a previous property sat vacant there for about twenty years. It was very much an eyesore for the town folk, including Kinney and his family who live nearby. For quite a while, Kinney and his wife, Julie, thought about purchasing the property and cleaning it up to revitalize the small downtown. 

“It was a question of: What could they do for the town that would give back to the community and be a hub for people to thrive? What kind of unique aspect could they add to Plainville’s downtown,” says Shaelyn Germain, global engagement manager for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Kinney’s employee for eight-and-a-half years. “They visited local schools to meet with children for input on what to make of the space. And so, after much thought, they settled on a bookstore.”

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Top, left to right: The welcoming exterior of An Unlikely Story; Australian author John Flanigan talks about his book Rangers Apprentice in the upstairs event space; The bookstore carries hundreds of books for both children and adults. Bottom, left to right: The bookstore promotes literacy with upcoming events from both local and nationally known authors; The bookstore has a unique selection of gift items; Relax with a good book in the store’s cafe.

The old building wasn’t an easy read for the Kinneys right away. After two structural engineers surveyed the dilapidated building, hoping they could save what was already there, it became clear that the original structure was not salvageable. So, the Kinneys turned the page and decided on reworking as many bits and pieces from the site and other run-down places into a new buildin

“There is a large amount of reclaimed material in the building sourced through Longleaf Lumber, including floors that are more than 100 years old from a factory in Dorchester. A majority of the beams and decking on the ceiling are from an old warehouse in Providence and in Kentucky. The shop also features displays that use fruit and vegetable crates from the old market that used to sit in this lot,” says Germain. “We are a three-and-a-half-year-old LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified gold building, which translates into an energy approval status. It was important to Jeff and Julie to make the new building as environmentally friendly as possible.”

Many other items in the shop are local and sustainable, too. The cafe menu features several options including paninis, soups, salads, daily specials and more using mostly locally sourced produce. So local in fact, that Sam Billings, a chef at the bookstore’s cafe, is also a farmer in town who sources many menu items from his property, Crystal Spring Farm. (Talk about farm to table!). Teas from Equal Exchange, chais, lattes, alcoholic beverages for guests twenty-one and older and seasonal specials can be ordered, too. Plus, coffee from New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket is available for caffeine consumption.

And in today’s world of technology and attachment to our devices twenty-four-seven, there is simply no better way to escape the realities of the world (those pesky email notifications won’t stop pinging!) than reading a book, sipping your favorite drink and having face-to-face interactions with well-read, like-minded people. And if there is? Well, I don’t know one. 

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