Before you bemoan the total disappearance of the small-time bookseller who tends to the printed word and offers full shelves of hardcopy of the same, look around your town, on corners and down streets and tucked into strip malls. Independent bookstores are hanging in, economically speaking. Some are even expanding their offerings to meet the needs of their loyal customers. The Hudson Valley, with its representative population of readers and writers, is an oasis for the indies, proving yet again why this is such a great place to live and work.
Of course, in an era of e-readers and online discount purchasing, the competition to move product through a viable storefront is stiff. Most retailers cannot match the price-points of volume sellers and still pay the rent. What they can do is serve customers face-to-face. They can get to know what people like and anticipate local buying trends. They can create a physical space of comfort where folks can linger and browse. And they can enhance the cultural vitality of the community.
The experience of walking into a room lined with jam-packed bookshelves, where a friendly, informed sales staff person makes recommendations or tracks down a title for you, is one that mega-companies like Amazon simply cannot replicate. And as the trend to shop locally has taken hold on many fronts in the Hudson Valley, it makes sense that book people, both buyers and sellers, would thrive here. A quick survey reveals a number of inviting, independently owned bookstores situated throughout the region.
The Golden Notebook
Since 1978, the Golden Notebook in Woodstock has supplied a steady and eclectic stream of customers with bestsellers, classics and everything in between. Started by Barry Samuels and Ellen Shapiro (it’s rumored that Samuels literally drove a truck to Manhattan, filled it up with books and drove back), the legendary store was purchased by Jacqueline Kellachan and Paul McMenemy in 2010.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” says Kellachan. “We just thought it was worth a try. Neither me nor my husband had any experience in the book industry; it was definitely seat-of-the-pants.” A recently renovated storage space upstairs now accommodates readings and events. “Author events not only help sell books, but also can give the customers more value.” Kellachan intends that the Golden Notebook become as much like a community center as possible.
The Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-8000, https://goldennotebook.com.
Oblong Books and Music
Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music – she and her father Dick Hermans own two stores, one in Millerton and one in Rhinebeck – says, “I couldn’t have asked for a better family business to be brought up in. I’m passionate about books and helping someone find their next favorite author.” The Rhinebeck store hosts most of the author events and workshops, even though the Millerton store was the flagship of the two, started in 1975.
“We really do curate our selection; we’re cognizant of what our customers want,” she says. Oblong offers every genre, with a deep fiction section and huge cookbook and children’s sections. The store underwent an expansion recently – another indication of a healthy business. (It should be noted that the new American Booksellers’ Association “Kobo” e-readers are now offered and supported at both Oblong and Golden Notebook.)
Oblong Books & Music, 26 Main Street, Millerton, (518) 789-3797; Montgomery Row, Rhinebeck, (845) 876-0500; https://oblongbooks.com.
Industry associations outline the various ways in which independent bookstores can maintain and increase their customer base, such as creating websites with online purchasing options, blog posts and events calendars; hosting poetry readings, writing workshops and specialty book groups; keeping staff selections interesting and current; creating customer membership/frequent buyer programs; and working with print-on-demand companies and self-published authors. To encourage reading among young people, independent booksellers often coordinate book fairs and fundraisers with schools and libraries: the sort of activity that keeps money circulating through the community. The full-service independent bookstores in our region participate in these outreach programs to promote literacy and give their customers better pricing.
Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, founded in the 1980s by Scott and Alison Meyer, has often partnered with the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, Shakespearean children’s troupes, Girl Scouts, sports teams and drama and musical groups as well to further various educational causes. The Meyers have also helped to produce the Millbrook Literary Festival for five years running, and regularly host the work of local artists in their upstairs gallery.
Merritt Bookstore, 57 Front Street, Millbrook; (845) 677-5857, https://merrittbooks.com.
The Reader’s Quarry and Woodland Valley Books
Why own and operate one used bookstore when two will do just as nicely? Dan Sofaer established Woodland Valley Books in the space above Phoenicia’s Ice Cream Station, where talks and poetry readings augment the foot traffic. Then he bought the Reader’s Quarry in Woodstock from former owner Anne Benson, who, he has said, had a penchant for accumulating a broad choice of titles. One old (the Readers’ Quarry has been around since 1974) and one so new that many folks in town don’t realize it’s there means that avid book people have twice the chance of finding that obscure novel or philosophy tome that disappeared from their own shelf years ago, or hitting pay dirt with a favorite author’s out-of-print works, or discovering something entirely unexpected – like the time Sofaer found a historically noteworthy letter in a copy of a rare book that he’d acquired.
The Reader’s Quarry, 97 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-5227, https://thereadersquarry.com.
Woodland Valley Books, 74 Main Street, Phoenicia; (845) 688-0011.
Get Real Books
Get Real Books in Accord is the newer independent used bookstore on the block, having been founded just shy of three years ago by Andrew Curtis and Judy Dorman. Currently open for operation in the afternoons, Thursdays through Sundays, the well-stocked brick-and-mortar storefront maintains a special focus on fantasy and science fiction titles. Curtis claims ownership of 17,000 books in the genres; clearly, Get Real is the place to visit to get your fantasy/sci-fi groove on.
Actually, the bright, airy space is filled with thousands of books on all subjects and genres. Plus, Curtis – who had a store in Queens previously – offers a huge selection of comics and graphic novels, all in excellent condition, with many wrapped.
Nothing in the store is priced above $10, which can be dangerous for anyone who can’t resist, say, scooping up all the Sam Shepard plays in one visit. Curtis and Dorman also offer an even broader selection of titles online.