B is for the best bookstore in Brockport
Stories can embody many forms. There are those we pass down, the ones we know by heart, and those we identify through the specificity of time or place. Some we learn by ear, and others we encounter pressed between the pages of a book. For fifty years the Lift Bridge Book Shop has been all of these and more. As an independently owned, beloved destination in the village of Brockport, the store is a space to gather in story, one where the edges blur, merge, and become an experience uniquely its own.
Look up—before even crossing the store’s threshold, you’re already immersed in a story! Inspired by illustrations from Peter Spier’s 1970 children’s classic The Erie Canal, local artist Stacey Kirby’s brightly colored mural invites all to step inside.The work, completed in 2021, is a delightful visual complement to the canal so rich in Brockport’s history and community.
Upon entering, customers are greeted by generous stacks and shelves of books. Every genre is represented and beckons readers to pause and delight in the multilevel store.The main floor is designated for new books for all ages, educational games, toys, puzzles, and unique gift items. You can also explore a vast assortment of gently used books at discounted prices in the basement.
Inside the store, the eye can’t help but wander. Treasures await around every corner. Finding interesting books in a brick-and-mortar structure is rare these days, an experience usually lost in the digital domain of instant gratification and on-demand shopping.
Tucked into the shelves between the books are framed photographs of the many characters who have shaped the store’s story: former employees and longtime friends. A few are even customers who became published authors themselves.
One will find pictures of Archie and Pat Kutz, who founded Lift Bridge in 1972. The husband and wife created a successful model of supplying college textbooks to SUNY Brockport students alongside an eclectic collection of fiction and nonfiction books of interest. Under their guidance, Lift Bridge expanded to multiple locations and was the only independently owned bookshop between Buffalo and Rochester.
After forty-two years, the Kutzes were ready for a new adventure and decided to sell the store. Thus, in 2014, Lift Bridge began its next chapter under the ownership and experience of a new generation of Brockport natives and former employees, Cody Steffen and John Boncyck.
Despite the pair’s successful efforts to expand community outreach and programming, sales dropped almost seventy percent from when they purchased the store, Amazon and other market factors irrevocably changing what was once a brisk business. In 2018, when the partners determined the store could not sustain two families, it was amicably agreed that Boncyck’s wife Sarah Boncyck would buy Steffen’s portion of the business. Lift Bridge once again became owner-operated by a man and a woman united in marriage. And more often than not, it’s John and Sarah who personally greet their customers at the door.
“We both love what we do. We love being in the store and the relationships we’ve formed from our presence in the community. Our customers form a small but loyal group. They are people we care about—those we invite to sit at our holiday table or bring groceries to postsurgery,” says John.
Sarah deeply cares about the people who come through the doors. She wants to know the customer’s stories. Such an approach affirms Lift Bridge as a welcoming space, expanding and unfolding between and beyond the page.
While the couple’s vision remains true to the founders’ original mission, the market is not the same. And the couple who adores sharing their love of books is equally honest about the store’s struggles. On a Saturday afternoon, in February 2020, Sarah quietly stuffed flyers into her customers’ shopping bags:
We share this with an open and heavy heart. Right now, we are at a pivotal moment. Lift Bridge has been part of the community for forty-eight years, and we are concerned that we will not be able to make it through this year. What we need in order to stay open are more people shopping in our store, and a renewed awareness that shopping local is essential to our community’s longevity.We need your help getting the word out.
That evening one of the store’s patrons shared her newsletter on Facebook. The response was immediate. When Sarah and John arrived to work on Sunday morning, shoppers were already lined up waiting for the store to open.
“We did more business in four hours than we might do in an entire Christmas week,” says John.
The trend continued into the following week.The story continued to spread, and for a moment, the Boncycks’ dream of selling just one book to every person in Brockport felt like it might become their new reality. Then COVID-19 hit, and everyone’s reality became unknown.
Lift Bridge did extraordinarily well shifting to meet the pandemic’s demands of online ordering, then shipping and hand delivering books to local customers and those further afield. Like the Erie Canal, the store continued to be an artery in the community, ultimately allowing reservations for a limited number of customers to return to the store for in-person shopping.
Erica Linden, manager of the Village of Brockport, was one of the first to make her reservation. She and her husband took their two children to the store to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
“Everyone got $100 to spend, which is far more than we would do under normal circumstances,” she says. “But that’s what Lift Bridge means to me. If I could, I would give them all of my discretionary income. It’s that kind of place.”
Lift Bridge Book Shop is a shelter, a place to gather.The store is a potent reminder that reading is always a communal act formed because it is shared in community. As with everything in the world, of course, there are days when Lift Bridge’s future feels more tenuous than others. Regardless, the Boncycks welcome all who enter with a generous smile and open arms. They want the shop to be here for generations, to continue the story. Visit them at 45 Main Street, Brockport, or browse the website at liftbridgebooks.com.