Words continues tradition of engagement and inclusion

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Words Bookstore, located in the heart of downtown Maplewood, has been a gathering place and mecca for those who appreciate the written word.

Located on Maplewood Avenue, the independent bookstore draws in customers from Maplewood and surrounding areas, and has established itself as a hub of learning, knowledge and inclusion.

Words was opened in 2009 by Jonah and Ellen Zimiles, who have been proud residents of the township for 27 years. When they opened Words, the Zimiles set out to offer Maplewood and surrounding communities an engaging and welcoming atmosphere for everyone to pursue their literary interests.

The store offers an extensive selection of books in-store and thousands of ebooks, cozy seating areas and even a “coffee corner,” where patrons can enjoy a cup of coffee, cappuccino or tea. Words carries books of all genres and hosts myriad events throughout the year. The bookstore regularly hosts authors, musicians, panel experts on a variety of topics, Saturday Storytime and more.

Jonah Zimiles​ told The Villager that he worked for a dozen years as a lawyer in large law firms before spending six years as a stay-at-home father. ​

“Soon ​after I finished going back to school at age 50​ to get an MBA​, my wife​, Ellen, ​learned that​ the old bookstore​ in town​, Goldfinch​,​​ was going out of business​, so ​we purchased​ it and went into the book industry​,” Zimiles said in a March email.

Although Words is a general independent bookstore, Zimiles said he takes great pride in carrying strong offerings of world literature and international relations in order to bring a global perspective to the shop.​ ​

“We carry a large, diverse collection of well-curated children’s books,” Zimiles said. “We also have ​what we believe to be ​the nation’s largest offering of books about autism.”

According to Zimiles, it is Words’ autism-friendly environment that sets it apart from other bookstores.

“​​Our focus on being an autism-friendly​ environment is unique​​,” Zimiles said. “We believe that we excel as a social enterprise, concentrating on supporting our community and bringing extraordinary authors to Maplewood.”

Zimiles credits his staff and customers for the inviting atmosphere at Words.

“The warm and engaging vibe would not occur without our terrific staff and our wonderful customers,” Zimiles said. “Our town’s commitment to all different types of diversity makes the place truly special.​”

According to Zimiles, his passion for and dedication to the special-needs community started with his own family.

“​Our son, Daniel, now 21, ​has autism, and we discovered that many families do not have places to bring their kids with special needs,” Zimiles said. “Accordingly, we wanted to ensure that our bookstore would be well-suited for them. We have had over 80 young people with autism work in our vocational training program, run free monthly activity programs for kids with autism, and offer many​ talks for parents ​and​ teachers on autism. We have found the mayor, the Township Committee, the school district, the library and many town institutions to be incredibly supportive. Our staff is fully aligned with our autism mission.”

Although ebooks have been competing with traditional books for several years, Zimiles said that the technology has not impacted sales.

“​Ebooks have not been a serious impediment to our growth, which has averaged over 10 percent per year even though ebooks came out and were briefly popular during our eight years at the bookstore,” Zimiles said. “We survive because of the passionate commitment of our community to books and our bookstore.​”

Zimiles said that owning a bookstore in a location full of book lovers has been rewarding.

“​Owning Words Bookstore in Maplewood has been a marvelous experience,” Zimiles said. “People in Maplewood, South Orange and neighboring communities are definitely readers and have been actively supportive of our store.​​”

And some of Zimiles’ favorite books and authors?

“​I am partial to nonfiction books and business books in particular,” Zimiles said. “Daniel Pink and William Duggan are two of my favorite authors. ​Harlan Coben has been a great supporter of our store, and I love his books. I also read a variety of books by the 100-plus authors who come to our store for events each year.”

Zimiles said that his wife, Ellen, reads broadly​ and ​enjoys Kazuo Ishiguro, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead​, ​Khaled Hosseini and Andrew Solomon.​

Thanks to its vocational training program for those with autism, as well as its general attitude, Words has received national attention. In 2011, Springboard Consulting, a U.S.-based marketing firm, named Words Bookstore as the recipient of its Small Business National “Disability Matters” Award. In addition, New Jersey Monthly Magazine has listed Words Bookstore as Best Independent Bookstore in New Jersey for three consecutive years in its readers’ poll. “Autism Speaks,” an autism advocacy organization, has presented Words as one of 15 model small business employers of individuals with autism.

Words is located at 179 Maplewood Ave. in Maplewood. The store can be reached at 973-763-9500 or online at wordsbookstore.com.

Photos Courtesy of Jonah Zimiles