Otto’s Bookstore, located in the heart of downtown Williamsport, is full of books, ranging from fiction, to poetry, to nonfiction, to funny little finds that could only be housed at a place like Otto’s. This independent store is owned and operated by Betsy Rider, who is full of spirit and devotion for the downtown area. Ever since she was a little girl, she can remember coming to that part of the city, and since then has become involved not only with her business, but with war reenactments, parades, and other promotional events. Being in the heart of the area, she experiences many different interactions with diverse groups of people, which is something she says to value. “I love the individual people with their independent businesses. I love working downtown.”
Throughout her life, she has been able to pass that infectious love for the city to others, including long-time customer Becky Renner. “This has got everything right. It’s an independent bookstore that managed to thrive even in the ages of Amazon,” Renner says.”It’s not just an independent bookstore, it’s a really good bookstore.” Becky came to the city of Williamsport in order to experience an outdoor lifestyle, which she was able to find in groups like the Greevy Paddlers and other avid kayakers. However, she still loves to come into town to visit Otto’s, as well as participate in other events such as First Friday.
We tend to believe that generational gaps, especially with the millennial age, have grown too big; that there simply isn’t enough in common to create a connection anymore. But when you visit Otto’s and talk to Betsy, you realize that a singular love for the community and the area reigns in each individual. She is 81 years old and still resonates the same vibrancy as she did when she was younger. She passes that on to other generations, pulling in people from all over. “We get a number of people from the hotels that they want to see what the small town is really like, and they come in and say, ‘this is wonderful place, I wish we had one like it in our hometown,’” she says.
Betsy has noticed a “brain drain” happening in the city, where talented individuals are leaving the area to find high-tech jobs that are not available in Williamsport. She would like to see more opportunity for them. She wants to see a bridge between that space of one generation and the next so that the older residents and younger ones can reside in the same town and be successful.
In a city that sometimes seems as though it is falling apart, it is important to remember that similar values can be found throughout generations. The gap isn’t so big after all, and even if you can’t seem to find that, just go talk to Betsy in her store. “How dare they! Come see me, I’ll straighten them out,” she proclaims.
Story by Sophie Herzing
Video by Christopher Cizek
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