Main Street Business

A New Leaf in an Old Town

By Published On: September 1st, 2023

Books! Yes, hooray for books! I love libraries, and I love bookstores. If you ask my preference for an amusement park or a bookstore, it’s no contest: bookstore hands down. So it was with a great sense of excitement and anticipation that I entered A New Leaf Used Books on East Church Street just off of Main Street in Pine Plains, NY.  

The store itself is a converted home, and every room is full of shelves and shelves of books carefully curated and arranged by category – and also places to sit, windows to look out of, art on the walls, even a garden out back – a practically perfect environment. At the heart of this little piece of heaven is Ginger Dowd. And she’s as rich a tome as any you’ll find on the shelves. 

I found Ginger where anyone coming into the store will, at her small desk in a corner of the first room when you come in through the front door. The store is open “every day,” she says, “12 to 4.” Ginger is there most days. Her business partner James (Jim) Polk is there a couple of days a week. 

Getting started

“The store was started in 1999,” Ginger begins. “For years I had dreamed of working in the town where I lived, and when a storefront became available, Jim and I rented the space, not even knowing exactly what we’d do. He said, ‘Maybe books,’” Ginger shares with a smile, “and that decided it.” 

Her next thought was, “Where am I going to get books?” Ginger went out and scouted for books at libraries, garage and estate sales, anywhere she could collect titles in good shape. The store started coming together, and soon donations were pouring in. 

The first store was down the street where the barber shop is now, but when the house that is the current space became available in 2005, Jim and Ginger bought it. Without missing a beat, with renovations in progress, too, they shifted every book and every shelf, keeping the store open while moving. As I spoke with Ginger, I learned this is a metaphor for her life – jump in, see where it takes you, be open to new beginnings while loving things from the past.

What a story

Born in San Antonio, TX, Ginger’s father was in the air force, and the family moved to Roslyn, Long Island, where Ginger grew up. Lured to the Big Apple, Ginger started working in advertising in Manhattan. When I comment on how that industry was depicted in the series Mad Men, she laughs and says that she recognizes everything about that show – “the clothes, the women, the behavior,” she says, “all spot on.” 

After a couple of years she headed to Bahia, Brazil, to live with an aunt and uncle who lived there. Did she know Portuguese? “No.” It was culture shock, for sure, but also a great experience of being able to live with family in a completely different country. 

Back in New York and in advertising again, Ginger’s uncle came to town and invited her to dinner. At the restaurant, a Spanish troubadour group came in off the street to entertain the diners. All of them were from Spain and were in New York to perform wherever they could and make enough money to survive. Only one of them spoke English. 

With just an invitation

“For some reason,” Ginger says, “I invited them to my apartment for a drink when they were done. Well,” she continues, “I immediately fell in love with one of them.” Paco eventually had to return to Spain, and Ginger, who knew no Spanish and no one else in that country, followed her heart and followed him. Being a strict Catholic country, there was no living together if you weren’t married, and Ginger found herself in Madrid needing a job and a place to live. She was an experienced media analyst at the time, and she “wrote to ad agencies in Madrid,” lined up interviews, and landed a job. 

I’m spellbound by Ginger’s adventures and daring, thinking of my own “story” and how adventurous I believed it to be at times, though in comparison it clearly was not. Yes, I moved to Manhattan to start a career. I had family in France and traveled there and to many other countries in my youth, but I spoke French and Spanish, and I lived and traveled mostly with other people. Going solo on any of these adventures would have been more than I was ready for, I suddenly realized. Not Ginger!

Ginger and Paco married so they could be together at last, and they had a daughter. But there was a new chapter ahead, and a new man, and a new life in Germany. Her second husband was an advertising executive who traveled the world, and their paths and careers took them back to Manhattan. He had children of his own, and they had a son together. Ginger and Paco were able to stay friendly, and their daughter grew up between New York and Spain, where she lives now.

City life/country life

Like many New Yorkers, Ginger and her husband had the apartment in Manhattan and also a weekend home in the Hudson Valley. Theirs was in Ancram, in Columbia County. Looking for more room for their extended family, they found a property of 50 acres there. Pregnant and still working, Ginger grew weary of the back and forth. “I liked it up here, and I wanted to stay,” she says. The large property became its own complication, and country life didn’t suit both of them. 

With her second marriage headed for divorce – though it was a friendly split – Ginger knew where she belonged. She bought a house in Pine Plains. She laid down roots. “I love the community here,” Ginger says. “In a short period of time you get to know not just one generation but usually three or four generations of people here. Everybody knows you, and you know everybody. For me, it’s a great feeling.”

Needing to start over after the divorce, with a house and family to support and not wanting to go back to Manhattan to work, Ginger thought to herself, “Now what do I do?” 

Starting over

“I went into the cleaning business,” she says. “I was in the best shape of my life!” But she needed more, and found her way back to the world of media, working at a radio station first in Poughkeepsie and then throughout the Hudson Valley. She did this for years, and again had that feeling that she was spending too much time away from the town where she most wanted to be. 

Turn the page. Enter James Polk. Ginger met him at a dinner party when she had “no interest in men,” she confides, but they hit it off. They don’t live together, but they are great friends and, for nearly a quarter of a century now, bookstore co-owners. 

Not surprisingly, when I ask what she loves most about the store, she says that she gets to learn people’s stories, and she loves that. “Customers here are always happy,” she shares. “They appreciate that the books are being preserved.” 

Ginger is a big fan of biography and memoir, and writes her own stories, too. We get up to explore the store, going from one beautiful room to another while I learned about how the subjects are arranged. There are seven rooms full of books, and A New Leaf also sells books online. 

Always more chapters

Stories everywhere. Plot twists. Risks. And rewards. Does Ginger consider herself a risk taker? “Not at all,” she says. “I didn’t give a second thought to any of it. I did what I had to do. I’m never bored. I’ve always liked going out by myself. I know many women don’t, but that doesn’t bother me, especially here, where everyone knows each other.” •

For a beautiful piece by Ginger about celebrating a milestone birthday in her beloved town, go to this link for the New Pine Plains Herald: Better yet, go to A New Leaf Used Books and chat with Ginger. And explore the store. You’ll be sure to come away with some good finds, some good stories, a deeper appreciation for Pine Plains and, like me, a new friend. 

A New Leaf Used Books is on Church Street just off Main Street in the heart of Pine Plains. Find them on Facebook at