Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney had a dream, a place, and the funds: An Unlikely Story opened in Plainville, Massachusetts in May 2015. This is my first time back in my home state since then, so I decided to pay a visit.
Like the small southeastern Massachusetts town where I grew up, Plainville is a small and sleepy rural suburban community. Though a short drive from Boston and an even shorter drive from Wrentham’s shopping Mecca and the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, it didn’t boast much besides old colonial houses, industrial-era mills, wooded wetlands, and wicked local businesses. A crumbling old general store decayed on a prominent corner until Jeff Kinney bought and transformed it.
It’s more than a bookstore. It’s more than a local bookstore. It’s more than a local bookstore slash coffee shop, even: it’s a community center that boasts eco-conscious construction and sustainable munchies, nurtured with love and intention.
Fans of Wimpy Kid (and their parents) will recognize Kinney’s handiwork in the cartoon sign, which features an elephant holding a book with its trunk.
The exterior design emulates the original general store, right down to the porch where locals used to sit and watch traffic go by. Recycled construction materials were used for the building and furniture, and solar panels provide electricity. This year, an outdoor holiday market brought local artists and vendors to the premises.
First Floor: Books And Coffee
Of course, Kinney’s multi-million dollar franchise has its own dedicated corner, where fans can pick up signed books and merchandise. It seemed to me, however, that Kinney is a giant foodie and culinary garden enthusiast, as the cookbook section expanded from the bookstore into the cafe. Middle grade, children’s, and young adult books each have their own sections along the walls. The ceilings are graced with whimsical decor (holy flying books!); the central shelves boast quirky gifts and (appropriately) lots of drawing and coloring supplies.
The adult shelves are populated with literary titles that seem to be selected for quality over quantity. Sadly for me, the science and nature sections are pretty spare, but happily for fiction fans, genres and general reads are all well-represented. Of course, the staff will order any book you desire. However, if you are just browsing, you will stumble upon required reading for students of literature alongside bestsellers and sundry award-winners.
The coffee: let’s talk about it. Holy @#$&. The cappuccino is enough to justify hopping on a plane immediately. The espresso is rich, the foam is thick and smooth, and I nearly kidnapped a barista to take home with me. Wow. Other beverage options showcase local and gourmet flavors (blueberry soda, organic lemonade, wine and beer). I did not visit during sandwich hours, but there are fresh and savory options for those who do. The seating area is spacious, and although the store attracts families with children, a lot of adults seemed to be enjoying quiet reading and writing time in the cafe. Also, the cappuccino. Did I mention the cappuccino?
Second Floor: Event Space
Thankfully for Mr. Kinney’s inventory, my baby got hungry before I could buy everything in sight, so I went upstairs and sat on one of the couches to mother accordingly. From there, I surveyed the ballroom floor, the romantic balcony, and the cute kitchenette. Here they host visiting authors, talks and workshops, art and dance classes, community yoga, and more. It’s also available for rent for private events, with seating for 150.
Third Floor: Studio
It’s not always open to the public, but when it is, it’s definitely worth a visit. When Kinney’s not taking a shift in the cafe or the store, he might be on the third floor creating his drawings on a 23-inch tablet. Kids are invited to try their hand on the tablet, hold his awards, and check out the big bronze statue of Scrooge McDuck. Obviously, there’s nothing Scroogesque about the proprietor, who spared no expense and continues to commit his time and resources to making sure this revitalized community hub thrives.
I confess: I’ve never read Wimpy Kid – the Amelia’s Notebook series from ’95 was my jam – but my stepson is among the throngs of middle graders who follow the comic adventures of Greg Heffley. He got a signed copy and an armload of other schoolkid narratives. My shopping bag ended up schlepping The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, She Walks in Beauty by Caroline Kennedy, Browsings by Michael Dirda, and my annual Sierra Club planner. After all, we’ve got to help this guy at least break even.
Except during holidays, the store is open from 9am-9pm Monday-Saturday and 9am-6pm on Sunday. It is located at 111 South Street in Plainville, MA at the corner of Rte 1A and Rte 106. Check out their website for events, rental details, the café menu, and (of course) books.
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Featured image via The Boston Globe