Finding a book without knowing the title and the author might seem like a hopeless endeavor, but the people at Breadloaf Book Shop relish the opportunity to defy expectations.
Since it first opened in 1971, Breadloaf forged a reputation for locating obscure, out-of-print and hard-to-find books.
Harold Johnson, who became owner of the shop in 2011, said someone once asked him to find three books using the sparsest of clues.
The customer only knew that they were children’s books which had been published between 1918 and 1921, and that they were written by a woman whose father was Alton Brooks Parker.
“This happens all the time,” said Peggy Montague, a Breadloaf employee.
Looking Parker up online, Johnson discovered the author’s father was a former federal judge, a Democrat who lost his bid for the U.S. presidency in 1904 to Teddy Roosevelt.
“So he was somebody,” said Johnson. “Now I just have to hope I could figure out which of his daughters is the author. Only problem: He’s a federal judge. Guess what’s sealed? Personal records.”
But he found a picture of Parker’s gravestone, which has on its face a list of his daughters’ names.
From there, Johnson was able to piece together that the author was Bertha Parker Hall.
“I got him all three books when he didn’t know the author, he didn’t know the titles,” said Johnson.
Montague and Johnson are book detectives who seek out lost and forgotten published works for fellow bibliophiles and the stray customer who wanders in looking for something good to read.
They have their specialties — Montague’s really good at finding Westerns, while Johnson’s specialties are classics and out-of-print books — and they’re in it for the thrill of the hunt.
But they’re also in it for the community. “We exist because the community supports us, and also, because we feel like we’re part of the community,” Johnson said.
Each year, on the second weekend of July, Breadloaf sponsors the Beachside Author Fest at the Lake Geneva Public Library, which drew more than 40 local authors last year.
Supporting locals extends inside the Breadloaf shop, where a special section spotlights books by local authors — including one by Montague, who wrote “The Irishman” under the name Margaret Blackburn.
Breadloaf has various books in stock, new and used, everything from popular fiction to cookbooks, biographies, classics, sci-fi/fantasy and more.
When customers ask for a book and it’s not in stock, they offer to order it.
If they say they’re not from Lake Geneva, Johnson insists that it doesn’t matter. “I’m the UPS supervisor for the area, so I can ship it anywhere,” he said.
Breadloaf Book Shop is located at 727 Geneva St., Lake Geneva.
Call (262) 248-9446 or visit Breadloaf’s Facebook page for more information.