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Whether to go with fries or coleslaw feels like a small decision when you are surrounded by thousands of books and given the opportunity to choose a limited number as a gift. But that’s exactly what happens at the Traveler restaurant, where owners Karen and Art Murdock are keeping a longstanding book-giving tradition alive.
“We are in our early 60s,” Karen tells Culture Trip. “We have owned the restaurant for 26 years. That’s a lot of books.”
Books have been a part of the Traveler legacy since the mid 1980s, when the diner’s previous owner, Marty Doyle, decided to do some spring cleaning.
“He was a great reader and his home was becoming overrun with books,” Karen explains. “So he started bringing in extra books and putting them around the restaurant. From there he took his station wagon around to libraries and anywhere else he could to expand on the book program.”
What started as a tidy up became the restaurant’s mantra; their sign now reads ‘Food and Books’, and Karen and Art travel the around the New England region building up their collection. “We have a 16-foot horse trailer that we take to library book sales and fill up numerous times a year,” Karen says. “We go to as many as three or four book sales a week all over Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”
Customers are spoiled for choice. Raising the stakes from Doyle’s original one-per-customer policy, the Murdock’s offer their guests three books each, and there are about five thousand books to choose from at any given time. Browsing with care is essential, as the books are not organised in any particular way (although there is a separate kids and young adult section).
“Our customers seem to enjoy the fact that they can wander around the restaurant hunting through our shelves,” Karen says. “And it also promotes conversation.”
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the main restaurant, there is a used-book store in the cellar with a selection of reasonably priced volumes.
So what’s it like being surrounded by books in the office? “Every day I see something I might want to take home,” says Karen. “Trouble is, our house would end up the same way the last owner’s did. Our grand kids always take books home with them. At eight years old our grandson has read five of the Harry Potter books, so we are promoting reading [in every way we can].”
As for the Traveler’s clients, they enjoy the books as much as the Murdocks. “Customers are surprised as they walk in our door, not knowing what to expect when they see our ‘Food and Books’ sign,” Karen tells us. “When we explain to them that they can take books home they are quite amazed. I spoke to a couple the other day, real book lovers that had promised each other that they wouldn’t buy anymore books. But they said free ones didn’t count so they left with a smile, full stomachs and their free books.”