It’s been said that books can alter your perspective, even your life. That couldn’t be truer than for Kathy Harig, owner of the Mystery Loves Company Booksellers in Oxford, Maryland. Harig’s entire life has been all about books—growing up in Ohio as a dedicated booklover and avid mystery reader; she describes herself as a “Sherlockian who grew up on Trixie Belden and Agatha Christie mysteries.”
She arrived in Baltimore in the late Sixties to attend Catholic University, “the best university of library science in the country.” After graduating, Harig became a librarian, working most of her life at the Pratt Library in Baltimore.
Surrounded by books at work and at home, she was right in her element, so what more could she want? How about a store full of them. Harig opened her first bookstore in 1991, while still working full time as a librarian. Specializing in the mystery genre, the store was aptly named Mystery Loves Company, and became a popular spot for Baltimore mystery and booklovers.
It’s no mystery to Harig why we love ‘em. “Mysteries provide escape and adventure, but they also challenge our brains, and make us smarter. They don’t dumb down, they elevate. There is also such variety in the genre from cozy to hardboiled to political, legal and literary thrillers and romantic suspense….something for everyone. Mysteries continually rank highest on the bestseller lists for these reasons,” observed Harig, a petite woman with thick white hair and bright eyes that light up when she speaks about her endless love of books.
On a personal note, Harig finds a sense of satisfaction as well. “Mysteries speak to my sense of justice in the world. When everything in my life is chaotic, I search for that intelligent being, either a professional or amateur sleuth, who solves the puzzle and makes it all right.
After visiting friends on the Eastern Shore and falling in love with the area, Harig and her husband decided to “retire” there. In 2005 she opened a second Mystery Loves Company Booksellers in the quaint historic town of Oxford, Maryland. Attempting to run two book stores at the same time with endless commuting became extremely difficult, so she closed the original Fells Point store, bringing all inventory to the Oxford location.
The Oxford version of Mystery Loves Company is located in a grand historic bank building situated on its main street fronted with proud Federal columns and brilliantly blooming azaleas. Inside you’ll discover a charmingly cozy book shop boasting high ceilings and the former bank’s large walk-in-safe filled with a treasure trove of books. The back room overlooking the river is a quiet nook where readers can relax on wingback chairs and sip a cup of tea. It’s also the place for numerous readings and book signings by regional authors like Hunter Harris, Donna Andrews, Amy Abrams and Marcia Talley along with nationally known authors such as Laura Lippman, David Stewart (The Lincoln Deception), Susan Elia MacNeal, Mary-Jane Deeb (Provence mysteries) and Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police series), who returns on March 1, 2014 for another book signing.
The shop hosts other literary events, such as the well-attended Jane Austen Christmas Tea held in December. This year it featured author Tracy Kiely, who penned the derivative mystery Murder Most Austen.
In addition to the endless array of mystery novels, Mystery Loves Company features books on Eastern Shore history, nature and nautical life, as well as a variety of fiction for all ages, both new and gently used. A fanciful collection of literary themed gifts is displayed throughout the store.
Harig is usually there to provide enthusiastic recommendations for the seasoned or novice mystery reader. Mystery lovers travel from far and wide to hear about what’s hot and peruse the shelves filled with their favorite genre.
The historic town of Oxford, established in 1683, nestles on a small peninsula surrounded by the winding Tred Avon River. It’s filled with elegant historic homes and quaint cottages owned by posh vacationers and retirees who come here for the serenity, endless water views, intimate narrow streets and of course, the yachting. Oxford is home to some of the best traditional wooden yacht builders in the country. The upscale, highly educated demographics make for an ideal bookstore location, a fitting accompaniment to the unique shops and gourmet restaurants that draw residents and visitors to the town all summer and every weekend throughout the year. Oxford also has a bit of a literary legacy….the nearby Robert Morris Inn, where author James Michener worked on his epic novel Chesapeake.
Living in a remote area of Tilghman Island past the tony town of St. Michaels, Harig drives 66 miles round trip each day to and from Oxford, including a ride across the river on the oldest working ferry in America, in what could be described as the best work commute ever.
“I love the calmness of the water, usually not a sound to be heard in the early morning. And I love seeing the birds — Heron, Cormorants, Ducks, Gulls of all types. The watermen are usually coming in from their morning crabbing and occasionally I see large yachts sailing from the Oxford Yacht Club. Heaven…
This brief grounding connection to the water and natural world might be what prepares Harig for her long days at the shop. She’s so energetic and passionate about books and everything else she sets her mind to accomplish. When not selling or reading books, Harig attends numerous book seller and mystery conventions, updates two informative websites filled with recommended book lists, writes a monthly newsletter, researches family history, even grows orchids and does a bit of needlework. Not exactly your typical retirement, rather a wonderful later chapter in Harig’s book of life.
Mystery Loves Company
202 S. Morris St. Oxford MD