There’s a steady stream of customers at Books on First and owner Larry Dunphy knows almost every one of them by name. 

They are open seven days a week and each day you’ll find either Dunphy, his wife or Brenda — Larry’s “favorite employee.” 

The business is part cafe, part music venue and, of course, part bookstore. Dunphy said he wants his store to be a destination for customers.

“If you get enough people in here you’ll accidentally sell a book now and then,” he said.

But when he was first starting out, some people said Dunphy wouldn’t be able to sell any books. 

“People said you got to be kidding,” he said.

Over the years he’s proven them wrong.

“We are probably the only independent bookstore between the suburbs of Chicago and Iowa City,” Dunphy said. “You get a lot of people who come in from out of town and their reaction, typically if they come in from Chicago, is, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe you carry this stuff.'” 

Books on First has been a part of the Downtown Dixon community for almost 20 years. Dunphy said they might not have the book you want to read, but they do have the book you need to read.

Many of the books are some of his favorites, like those by Irish author John Banville. 

“It’s good way to go broke to buy books that you like,” Dunphy said. “I like amoral characters. I’m not a happy ending kind of guy. That might turn people off.” 

If it does, the staff is happy to make a recommendation. 

“You try to feel somebody out. You know what are they reading now,” Dunphy said. “For the most part my recommendations, or my wife’s recommendations, or Brenda’s recommendations … It works out.” 

And it must because the readers keep coming back for more. 

“After 20 years I guess it’s still working,” Dunphy said.