Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers encourages kids to look beyond screens and develop a love of reading—one title at a time.

Talking about the transformative power of literature, the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away.”

For four decades, first in Clintonville and now in Upper Arlington’s Mallway, Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers has introduced children to reading—and all of the faraway places that books might take them.

Owner Melia Wolf, who bought the store from original owners Carl King and Sally Oddi in 2017, takes pride in molding young readers. “Maybe I’m not necessarily the expert in everything that is literature,” says Wolf, 50, of Upper Arlington. “But I am a bridge-builder, I am a connector. … I love helping people make connections.”

Longtime customer Kara Stearns praises the personalized service the store offers. “We love their expertise, but we also love their warmth and the kind attention that they give each customer—and really each child that walks through their doors,” says Stearns, who regularly brings her two children, ages 6 and 8, to Cover to Cover.

A native of Worthington, Wolf spent most of her life not buried in books but immersed in art. After receiving a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art & Design, Wolf transferred to Ohio State University, where she earned a degree in fine arts in 1993. She then embarked on a career as an elementary school educator, working as an art teacher at private schools in Central Ohio.

“Then I became a mother, and I became a mother of a child with autism, and I stayed home,” Wolf says. “I actually ended up home schooling my son with autism for a little while just before taking the store.”

The former art teacher’s decision to go into the book business did not come entirely out of the blue. “I’ve been a book lover my whole life,” says Wolf, who had shopped at Cover to Cover in Clintonville with her two sons. “I use books even as an art teacher to communicate and to share and to help inspire.”

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When Oddi and King were ready to retire after running the business since 1980, Wolf found herself at a turning point, too. “It was time for me to kind of find myself and work,” she says. “I actually went in not knowing everything involved in running a bookstore.”

Her first order of business, however, was finding a new home for the shop, since Oddi and King had retained ownership of the North High Street building that was the store’s second Clintonville home. Almost immediately, the ideal spot emerged near Wolf’s home turf. “I live in Arlington,” she says. “Being that I’m still managing my son, it made sense. The space came available literally right when I had purchased the store.”

Benefiting from foot traffic on the Mallway, Cover to Cover has thrived in its new location but remains connected to its long-established fan base. “We get customers from Clintonville frequently that still continue to like the store,” she says. “I feel like that’s a good sign—that the store moves, and they’re still coming.”

Cover to Cover offers books aimed at early readers to young adults. Parents and grandparents frequently make selections for the young people in their lives, but Wolf encourages the grown-ups to be open-minded about letting children do the picking. When that happens, she says, “Sometimes there’s a little more motivation, inspiration—I don’t know, dedication—to reading the book.”

Wolf says parents shouldn’t worry about children reading slightly above their age. “If parents are concerned about a certain topic, they should read the book, too, and then talk about it,” she says. “Children will be exposed to all of these things, and isn’t it better to be exposed and to have conversations with your parents? I don’t believe in banning books.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in mid-March and Cover to Cover was forced to close its doors, Wolf and her staff strove to remain in contact with customers. In addition to providing online ordering, staffers set up window displays of books for sidewalk perusal and offered local delivery. “We started to build out curated lists online that also mirrored what we were selling in our windows,” says general manager Bryan Loar. “We made sure for all of our new customers and existing customers, as well, we gave a personal note with each delivery.”

Since reopening in mid-June, Cover to Cover has taken measures to boost safety—including requiring face masks and instituting contactless payment—but many fundamentals remain unchanged. “You will have that high level of service that we’ve always provided,” Loar says.

In an age when children face demands on their time and attention from television, streaming videos and virtual games of all sorts, Wolf still stresses the importance of reading. “There’s a pacing to a book and your experience of it that you don’t necessarily get from something on a screen,” she says.

Besides, you can’t doodle in the margins of an electronic device. “I have a book from when I was a child,” Wolf says. “There’s a page that I scribbled on. … When I see that, it’s like seeing a piece of myself when I was young.”

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.