These grown-ups relived the book fairs of their youth, complete with VHS tapes and a heartthrob wall

Tribune Content Agency

PHILADELPHIA — Throwback was the vibe marking the unofficial start of summer at Latchkey record store.

Instead of sitting in the sand down the Shore, dozens of Philadelphians kicked off their Memorial Day weekend jamming to Salt-N-Pepa while perusing records and VHS tapes, and reminiscing about their middle school days at a Scholastic Book Fair.

The event, officially called the Grown-Ass Book Fair, was the brainchild of Sara Calvarese, co-owner of the 8th House store in Point Breeze.

“It’s a fun little nostalgia bomb,” Calvarese said, standing in the middle of Latchkey as the event got underway about noon Saturday. “Who didn’t love the book fair?”

Inspiration for the event began percolating a few months ago, said Calvarese and Latchkey owner Marc Faletti, who hosted it together.

“Sara was like, ‘What if we did the middle school book fair — but better?’” Faletti recalled.

“But you have money, and you’re an adult,” Calvarese said, “and you can afford your Tamagotchi habit,” referencing the handheld virtual pets that were all the rage in the late 1990s.

The theme struck a chord with the steady stream of people filtering in and out of the store on an early Saturday afternoon when much of the city felt as if it had emptied out. They laughed about memories with friends and fellow patrons as they browsed old-school comic books and games, got tarot card readings, and took photos in front of a “teen heartthrob wall” full of cutout images of favorite celebrity crushes from back in the day, including Brad Pitt, Allen Iverson, and Brandy. (The wall, which will become a permanent fixture in the store, has a few intentional omissions, such as Johnny Depp, who has since been accused of abuse, Faletti noted.)

Most customers said they had seen the book fair advertised on Latchkey’s Instragram or stumbled across mention of the events in articles or blog posts as they scoured the internet for things to do in the region this holiday weekend.

“It seemed really chill. I liked book fairs in the ‘90s,” said Alex Mangroo, 34, of Point Breeze, who was at Latchkey for the first time. “It was a much simpler time when you could get excited about someone wheeling in a bunch of books that were already in your school library.”

Mangroo and his husband, Brad Fesi, 37, brought their pit bull mix, Roger, 14, inside so they could get a family photo in front of the heartthrob wall. For $3, employee Kelsey Ostia, who was dressed like a Spice Girl, snapped a Polaroid of the trio, with Roger sitting obediently in front of his parents.

“I was very into the ‘90s nostalgia,” said Nicole Milliken, 42, of South Philadelphia. “Scholastic Book Fairs were my jam.”

It was nice to go to one, she said, where you could spend your own money, perhaps even more than $7-$10, the amount she recalled getting from her parents for each school book fair.

“I like old stuff, vintage. … I feel weird saying it’s vintage,” said her friend Angela Goodwin, 34, who was visiting from Pittsburgh for the weekend and donning a black Mötley Crüe shirt for the occasion.

The organizers had encouraged people to dress as their middle-school selves, offering anyone dressed up 10% off and giving free Tamagotchis to those with more elaborate outfits.

However, it was sometimes hard to tell, Calvarese and Faletti said, whether the outfits were for the event or just in line with today’s fashion.

“I feel like everyone dresses ‘90s anyway,” Faletti said with a laugh.

“It’s back,” Calvarese said.

Katie Williams, 37, of South Philadelphia, wore a black shirt emblazoned with a pink Pac-Man ghost and a black choker around her neck. She had the shirt and choker in her closet already, she said, noting the choker was an accessory she actually wore back in the day.

“I will take this off as soon as I go outside,” she said, pointing to her neck. But first, she had to buy some magnets for her daughter.

Nearby, Tony Yuschak, 38, of Paoli, got a tarot reading for the first time.

“I’m currently a little skeptical,” Yuschak said after the reading. But “it was fun, and there were some interesting insights and parallels with what I’m working through right now.”

Yuschak and Liz Sabel, 36, had read about the event online, then decided to drive into the city from Chester County and make a day of it. They planned to go to Reading Terminal Market after their Latchkey visit, then maybe stop at Morris Arboretum if they still had energy.

Meanwhile, Cymone Gates, 31, stumbled across the fair while out walking in her neighborhood.

“The music drew me in,” said Gates as she eyed hip-hop records and chunky earrings that bore the image of “Rugrats” character Susie Carmichael. Once inside, Gates said, she remembered that she had recently come across a social media post about this event, which immediately brought back memories.

“I was like, ‘Oh, the Scholastic Book Fair,’” she said. “I hadn’t thought of it in so long.”