There are her son’s restaurants: Vesta, a pizza shop, and Dan’s Restaurant & Tap House. Residents work out around the corner at Fit in BoonsBoro, the gym Roberts built last year.
Roberts and her family own eight properties with an assessed value of $3.2 million in this Western Maryland town of 3,400. Their businesses employ about 100 people, and the enterprises have done so well that other businesses have blossomed around them. The bookstore begat gift shops. The inn boosts a spa.
Sometimes, best-selling books put their settings on the map the way “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” did for Savannah, Ga., and the “Twilight” series did for tiny Forks, Wash. But rarely do authors become their town’s major economic development engine. With 400 million books in print, and a Forbes-estimated income of $23 million in 2011, that is what Roberts has become for Boonsboro.
“Without Nora, our town square would be like a blight on our town,” says Mayor Charles “Skip” Kauffman Jr. “With her, it’s the focal point. Her interest in our town is immeasurable. She could be doing this anywhere, but she chose Boonsboro.”
Roberts, standing in Turn the Page before her book signing, offers a simple explanation.
“This is my home,” she says. “I’m fond of home.”
‘We want to see stuff’
Boonsboro is a 90-minute drive from Washington, a speck of a town near Hagerstown where residents decorate their porches with American flags and watch high school football on chilly Friday nights.
Roberts has deep roots in this place. She moved to nearby Keedysville with her first husband in 1972 and raised her sons here. In 1985, she married Bruce Wilder, a carpenter who came to her home one day to build bookshelves. He opened the bookstore 17 years ago, and the other businesses followed.
“All of our businesses have just kind of happened,” says Wilder, who oversees many of the family’s interests. “In our position monetarily, you can invest whatever with your financial adviser, and you really never see it. That’s all good. But we want to see stuff.”
Their economic development plans usually start with Roberts. She is self-taught. She writes at home five days a week, eight hours a day, publishing at least a half-dozen books a year, either under her name or her pen name, J.D. Robb. Roberts writes romances. Robb writes mysteries. Both names show up on bestseller lists. Roberts’s publisher estimates that Roberts sells 27 books a minute.
Roberts tries not to let her businesses interfere with her prose, although recently, as her workday was starting, Wilder yelled upstairs to inform her that Vesta’s ice machine was broken.