Monday, January 5, 2015

Brick and Mortar: The Naturalist's Notebook

This is the first article in a series about cool stores that sell gear we like.  In the Internet Age it is all too easy to sit down, Google something, pull out your plastic, and wait for it to arrive.  But the reality is that experience, while convenient, isn't ideal.  You can't see or touch the thing you want.  You have to depend on crappy pictures.  But when you find one of these stores, a store that has what we like and is a real physical place, well it is special and I have decided to highlight those places.  They might not be where and what you think.  Some are boutique places, but others are hangers on from a time when knowledge and service were important.  I think you'll find that going to these stores or heck finding one of your own is pretty darn exciting.  After all, they are almost always run by folks as passionate about specific things as we are.

The first Brick and Mortar is The Naturalist's Notebook.

This past August my family went on a vacation to Maine, specifically Mount Desert Island.  It is a wonderful place with lots of hiking, beautiful scenery, and some very interesting things to do.  In our travels around the island and going from town to town I found a small store in Seal Harbor called the Naturalist's Notebook.  With that kind of name I had to check it out.

When my son and I walked in I was stunned.  It was part art store, part stationary store, part bookstore and not in a Barnes and Noble, lets-cram-a-bunch-of-random-shit-in-here kind of way. It was also quite close to a museum.  There were little displays of things for kids to do--drawing owls, pretending to be a specimen, and playing with various kinds of art supplies.  And there were animals in formaldehyde, looking all high school science class.  

But the stuff they were selling was equally cool.  There were magnifying glasses, tiny rockhound hammers, hand brooms, collection bags, tons of pens, pencils, and journals.  It was quite impressive.  They even had a large stock of out of print Field Notes.  I picked up some Expedition Edition Field Notes. I keep one Field Notes book for show notes for the podcast and another as an idea for post topics.  I used to keep a paper calendar, but it was just too much of a hassle.  These will be perfect for quick ideas.

The clerk inside the store wasn't what I expected either (a hipster, frankly).  Instead I got the sense that she was either an art student or a biology student.  And she REALLY liked working at the Naturalist Notebook (or perhaps more accurately--she liked the stuff they sold).  My son loved the place as well, walking around and staring in almost complete silence. 

I am not sure why I am telling you about this place, other than to remind you it is possible to find stores that aren't big box stores or singleton's trying to be big box stores.  If you get up to MDI, even if you are on the Bar Harbor side of the island (where most folks go) its worth the half hour car ride to get to the other side and peruse the small but stocked shelves of the Naturalist's Notebook.


  1. Great idea for a series of posts.

  2. Sorry if this is a duplicate. My favorite local place is Pieritz Brothers Office Supplies in Oak Park (the People's Republic of Oak Park) IL. Family run, definitely not hipsters, and seem to carry the entire Rhodia line. Always happy when I leave.

  3. Awesome post, hope to see more like these in the future, we need good brick and mortar stores. On the other hand, I was wandering Barnes and Noble waiting for a friend a found a good Bible I wouldn't have found otherwise, even being a reader of an enthusiast blog like Bible Design and Binding, way awesome. Bibles are undergoing a similar Renaissance that EDC is undergoing, being watching since 2008 the Bible I just swooned over is $30 retail came out this year and rivals and even bests in some ways Cambridge's (the Surefire of the Bible world) Clarions of $130. Lots of change happening and more widely available and cheaper. I'm such a nerd. [That was being trying to keep it as short as possible, I get that people who come here don't necessarily want to hear me blather about Bibles, typography and design]

    All to say that even B&N sometimes makes for a better sort of thing than being a reader online.

  4. Tony:

    I applaud your post regarding this unique store. These gems are all around us and deserve our patronage. Most will not be as polished and well appointed as this example, The real treasure may be the knowledge imparted by the owner or proprietor about the items being sold, the application of said item or about the field in which is may have been derived. I, for one, am willing to pay a premium for an item when individualized service is given to me from a local, small business.