Inside the front door of Salamander Books & Music in Annville sit shelves of classic books, vinyl records, CDs, and music gear, while old-fashioned posters and assorted knick-knacks hang from the walls. The cool factor is undeniable, but don’t be tricked into thinking it’s all surface level — what’s for sale is just as compelling.
Michael Cantor, a recently new resident of Annville himself, is the owner of the store, which opened at 1244 East Main Street at the beginning of September. “I want [the books] to be good solid reading material,” Cantor told LebTown in a phone interview, adding that “[the store] is particularly geared toward people that might have any specific interests they might want to look into.” The range of genres and content is diverse, with everything from theology to philosophy to science fiction and more represented.
Cantor’s methods for selecting quality books are time-tested. Previously, Salamander Books had been a mainstay of the city of Baltimore, where it built up a glowing reputation from its opening in the 1990s. The store closed at its original location in 2012 and went online as the book-selling industry underwent changes, including the rise of digital e-books.
About six months ago, Cantor and his family moved to Annville when his wife, Dr. Cynthia Vejar, was hired as faculty by Lebanon Valley College. Salamander Books has since been resurrected in brick-and-mortar form right here in Lebanon County.
The books are categorized into sections depending on genre and content, and there’s a focus on what Cantor terms “root material.” The Science Fiction section, for example, might contain staples of the genre from Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, or Arthur C. Clarke, alongside a variety of other authors and lesser-known gems.
Cantor is still organizing and experimenting with the layout of the store, which is housed inside a refurbished barn across the street from the former Marty’s Music.
Besides the books, the store offers a small vinyl record selection, CDs, movies, and various music gear. According to Cantor, these will always be a part of the store, though the inventory on hand might change depending on what’s popular with customers. “We’re trying to feel out what the area wants, and we’ll move in that direction,” he said.
Already, he’s noticed that members of the local college community have taken an interest. Few customers leave without finding something, whether they realized they were looking for it or not.
Cantor’s ideal vision for Salamander is one in which it becomes a favorite place for thoughtful readers and locals interested in the arts. “Hopefully we can open it up to more community-oriented activities,” Cantor stated, adding that poetry readings, author signings, singer-songwriter performances, and other similar events were all possibilities.
Between the store operations still settling into place and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic (or, as the handwritten hours notice at the door puts it, the “current weirdness”), there’s not been a good opportunity to host much just yet. Cantor wants to continue to expand his inventory regardless, with the same focus on “good solid reading material” continuing to influence picks.
Like his store, Cantor himself has also led a surprising journey to where he is now. Though he graduated from college as an environmental engineer, he decided to leave the profession and instead begin a career as a magician, a passion carried over from time spent growing up in the Washington D.C. area and abroad in Europe.
For many years, “The Amazing Cantori” has been entertaining clients as diverse as Harley-Davidson, Johns Hopkins University, and the FBI. Cantor’s also worked as a professional photographer and a graduate-level instructor on magic, and is a published author.
According to Cantor, future magic shows at the new store are theoretically in the cards.
Salamander Books & Music has a kind of magnetism that’s hard to come by. With a wide-ranging and careful selection for sale, a college town atmosphere, and an certain undeniable coolness, it’s only a matter of time before it pulls off in Annville the same feat it did in Baltimore and becomes a community favorite, no sleight of hand needed.
Store hours are currently Monday through Wednesday from 10am to 3pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm, though these may be subject to change as things settle in and as the pandemic continues. Otherwise, visitors might be able to drop in “by chance or by appointment,” as stated on Salamander’s website and Facebook page.
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