As improbable dreams go, owning a bookstore ranks right up there with becoming an astronaut or a rock star, but who can resist the fantasy? Even in the wake of Borders’ collapse and Amazon’s inexorable domination, the idea of hand-selling great novels to cappuccino-sipping patrons persists for thousands of bibliophiles stuck in cubical hell.
The reality, of course, is far different: long hours, slim margins, economic ruin always hovering close by. Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Washington’s Politics and Prose, just rolled her eyes when I referred to her living the dream. A bookseller in California told me that the quaint cafe in her store is “a vampire.”
But then there’s Ann Patchett, the bestselling novelist, who decided two years ago to open the only bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. In this month’s issue of the Atlantic magazine, she writes about the surprising success of her Parnassus Books with such infectious enthusiasm that I wanted to quit my job and join her.
For months, I’ve been fantasizing about buying the Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, a tony little ski town near my folks’ house in New Hampshire. This summer, we noticed that the owners, Connie Appel and Peggy Holliday, had put the 2,000-square-foot store up for sale. As the old joke goes, it seemed like a sure way to make a small fortune — from a large one. My family and I have been patrons of Morgan Hill since it opened in 1995, and it was fun to imagine my younger daughter running the little cafe we’d add in the back. My wife and I would host readings with Molly Ivins and John Updike (yes, part of the fantasy involves bringing authors back from the grave).
Alas, it’s not to be. At least not this time. Holliday told me today that she and Appel have a verbal agreement with “a wonderful young couple.” Details need to be worked out, but they expect the new owners to take over in July.
Congrats, wonderful young couple. You’re living our dream.
Ron Charles is The Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.