"Will You Marry Me?" in a Baltimore Bookstore

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Last Sunday, a handsome bearded young man strode inside Charlotte Hays Murray’s Bookstore Next Door in Hampden, and explained to the owner that he hoped to propose to his girlfriend in the next few minutes, inside Hays Murray’s shop. She was all for it. The young man carried with him an old book on Baltimore, inside which he tucked a tiny note popping the life-altering question. Hays Murray and her parents looked on–they were excited but tried to act nonchalant, so as not give away the surprise.

“We decided to set the book in a prominent place in the center of the bookstore on a rustic federal slant-front standing desk, so it was visible as they walked in,” Hays Murray says. “[The young man] chatted and fussed a bit. My dad offered some sage advise from a man who has been married to the same woman for over 40 years to a man about to embark on this new adventure. Dad said, ‘You know if you do this you might be stuck with her for 40 years,’ and the guy said, ‘Oh, I hope so.’ My mom laughed.”

The Bookstore Next Door is a rare and unique books shop, new to the area, attached to Hays Murray’s seven-year-standing Charlotte Elliott antiques and vintage clothing store.

The cute bearded man, whose name Hays Murray did not catch, explained that he and his fiance (she said yes) were originally drawn to her shop by the family atmosphere, the comfortable and happy vibe. The bookstore is one of his future bride’s favorite places.

“When they were here during the Christmas parade, we apparently offered them food and warmth, and let them use the restroom (which no one else would do),” Hays Murray says.

Maybe indie bookstores are quietly becoming the trendy new place for thoughtful people to plot lifelong-narrative bliss.

A few years ago, Rachel Whang and Benn Ray, who own Atomic Books–and who happen to be engaged to each other–helped orchestrate a carefully staged marriage proposal in their shop.

A local comic artist Michael Bracco planted an engagement ring inside the pages of his own specially designed graphic book–by end of story, his gal Shawna Pincus was in tears. She said she would.

More recently, a newly betrothed couple asked to visit Atomic for an engagement photo shoot.

Why are some couples-in-big-love drawn to the aisles of bookstores rather than the candlelit restaurant corner?

“Because it’s a good place to find sex guides,” Ray says. “Because proposing while surrounded by Kindles is just sad. Bookstores are about community. Weddings are a community’s celebration of love between two (at least currently) people. So it makes sense. Books offer promise. Knowledge. Escape. Journey. They transcend time. We connect to them. We love writers. We love stories. We love books. We love each other. So why not take the first step of a life’s journey while surrounded by things that mean all that.”

Adds Hays Murray, “It does make me wonder if I should keep a bottle of champagne on hand just in case this happens again.”



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