One might have thought that rising competition from big box retailers and digital reading devices would have put most neighborhood bookstores out of business. Thankfully, a few independent bookstores are still going strong, thanks to their dedication of the local community and their willingness to think outside the box. We took a look inside the stacks at five local bookstores to see what they offer and what the next chapter will bring.By Judy Enright
Photography by Jack Foley
Ever since Buttonwood Books and Toys opened its doors in Cohasset 25 years ago, its owners have kept the business firmly rooted in the community. Facing ever-increasing competition from online booksellers and national retail outlets, shops like Buttonwood manage to stay afloat, thanks in no small part to the owners’ dedication to customer service and a willingness to diversify.
“We’re always open-minded about trying new things,” says owner Kathy Detwiler, who took the reins at Buttonwood when her mother-in-law, longtime owner Betsey Detwiler, retired in 2013. Selling more than just books, Buttonwood offers toys and games, greeting cards, stationery and unique gifts for all ages. Last spring, Kathy and co-owner Arna Lewis decided to transform the bookstore for a special evening café event, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths and food catered from the Fresh Feast in Cohasset. “It was a great opportunity for friends and book clubs to get together and socialize while interacting with an author in a more intimate setting,” says Detwiler.
Buttonwood is one of the few independent bookstores (a.k.a. Indies) in business on the South Shore. Most Indies are full-service, one-stop shops with owners who are deeply committed to, involved in and supportive of their communities. As they point out, dollars spent in an independent bookstore stay in the community.
The shop places special book orders nearly every day and often receives them the next day if they are in stock at the distributor.
“That’s a huge service,” says Lewis, who adds that customers do not pay for pickup or delivery and purchases are giftwrapped free. The store also sponsors numerous programs including an adult book club, author signings, coffee with the authors, summer reading for children and a popular “Where’s Waldo” program that involves some 20 Cohasset businesses. The staff also takes artists and authors to schools across the region and invites students to the store after school to have pizza with the authors and artists.
So, how have Indies survived when some large retailers haven’t?
“Indies are much more personal and offer more services and really reflect the community and their owners,” says Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Book
sellers Association. “It’s a positive story these days. People are supporting their local businesses.”
Another plus for independent bookstores, says Detwiler, is having staff willing to spend time researching requests. “Sometimes customers come in and they’re looking for a topic but they’re not sure what they want. We talk it through and take the time to do the legwork. At Buttonwood, we offer individual hands-on service and develop relationships with customers who we often know by name. We have the background, knowledge and ability to serve them immediately.”
The owners of independent bookstores are often big supporters of local authors.
“Indie booksellers know their stock, and they tend to know their customers, too. So they can match a book to a reader in a way that big box store clerks can’t, and they can also recommend books that will expand the customer’s reading tastes without simply tossing out random titles,” says local children’s book author/illustrator Brian Lies. “It’s the equivalent of having a suit tailored to you, versus buying one at a discount store and hoping it fits.”
Author and illustrator Timothy B. Ering agrees.
“There’s a wonderful hospitality felt when you wander through an independent bookstore to see new titles and to be able to ask seasoned book lovers about books you’ve heard about, or to learn about old books or new books that have created a buzz. And as an author and illustrator,” says Ering. “Independent book sellers are my lifeline!”
Westwinds Bookshop is an Indie in Duxbury with a storied past stretching back to 1946, when Margaret Carter Metcalf opened The Westwinds Book Shop and Lending Library in a carriage house at her Washington Street estate. After her death in 1957, the shop carried on, was moved to Snug Harbor, and later to its current location in the Duxbury Marketplace on Depot Street.
Lydia and Doug Hart bought Westwinds in 2011 when it was about to close. Despite knowing nothing about owning a bookstore, they were determined not to lose this town treasure so they moved the store to its current location and doubled the size. Westwinds has an inventory of more than 6,000 books as well as greeting cards, gifts, children’s toys and stuffed animals.
Manager Brooke McDonough says Westwinds stresses personal contact with customers and involves the community as much as possible. For instance, Donna Ryan runs a free children’s story hour every Monday at the store, and Debbie Burns, a sixth grade reading teacher, leads a project called, “You Are the Author” at Duxbury Middle School.
“Through the project, students learn the necessary components of a well-written story including character, setting, conflict and resolution,” says Burns. Students can become authors by creating original stories. Westwinds also hosts “Meet the Author” events for preschoolers at the store.
“In addition to reading their book to an eager group of three- and four-year-old children, the author gets to sign the bookstore wall alongside award-winning published authors like Brian Lies,” says Burns.
Westwinds also hosts a midday adult book club, supports numerous schools and sports teams, and organizes special events such as literary luncheons with authors, throughout the year.
“You might be able to get books cheaper [at a big box store],” says McDonough, “but you won’t get the same service.” Giftwrapping is free as are special orders, which often arrive the next day.
Local author Marianne Leone commented, “Independent bookstores, and especially Westwinds, are all about community. One example: my friend, novelist Randy Susan Meyers, came to read from her first novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, and the event was also a fundraiser for domestic violence and a Cape Cod shelter. That is community involvement!”
Another South Shore Indie, Storybook Cove, was opened by Janet Bibeau 24 years ago. Last year the store moved to the Hanover Mall, after 22 years at Merchants Row in Hanover, to take advantage of increased foot traffic. Some adult books were added at the new space as the result of requests.
The new 3,000-square-foot bookstore specializes in children’s books and toys, offers giftwrapping, special orders, author signings, and has programs like an American Girl Club and a chess club. The mall location has unlimited parking, more visibility and is right down the hall from the South Shore Children’s Museum, which moved from Hanson and co-sponsors some events with Storybook Cove. Since the move, Storybook has given out more than 600 book club cards for new customers.
Once Upon a Time, situated on Ocean Street in Marshfield, sells books for children through 8th grade and has about 1,000 titles. Gloria Peotrowski, bought the bookstore business from Winn McGurty in 1981 and still owns it and the adjoining shop, Olivia Rose Children’s Boutique. There was a satellite store on St. George Street in Duxbury for 24 years, but it closed two years ago. Peotrowski’s daughter, Sherri Thompson, manages the store, where the shelves hold far more than just books. Customers can find a wide array of games, crafts and educational toys for youngsters.
Charles “Chuck” Purro didn’t set out to become a bookseller. He was actually a professional drummer for many bands, playing with singers like Susan Tedeschi, Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt.
“I was looking for a day gig,” says Purro, who found himself smitten by the beauty of old books. “These are works of art,” he says. “The craftsmanship and beauty, especially in the older books, is sheer artwork.”
For more than 34 years, Purro’s store, The Yankee Book and Art Gallery at 10 North St., Plymouth, has offered an extensive range of secondhand books, art, maps, magazines, autographs and old photos. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the 850 square-foot antique building carry a wide range of topics, from occult and metaphysics to nautical, military and Pilgrims. “There are easily more than 10,000 books, paper ephemera and items in the store for sale,” says Purro.
You never know what you might find in the stacks at an Indie bookshop—like the lazy 20-pound cat named Phat that resides at Yankee. “People may not necessarily know what they want when they come in,” says Purro. “It’s the thrill of discovery.”