In the summer of 2012, visiting the idyllic, lakeside town of New London, N.H., Anna Miner found herself indulging in the typical vacationer’s fantasy: Can’t I just live here year-round? Unlike most vacationers, however, Miner found her answer — Yes! — in the town’s bookshop.
While browsing the Morgan Hill Bookstore on Main Street, she began thinking about owning it. At the time, Miner worked for a private school outside Boston; her husband, a prolific reader, was in sales. As they both reached 40 and their daughters approached school age, Miner imagined a different, simpler kind of life for her family.
As it happened, Morgan Hill’s owners were retiring — there was a story in the local paper that very day — and the shop was for sale. Miner called her husband, Chris, at work. Within an hour, her fantasy was on the way to becoming a reality. The couple quit their jobs, and the family moved from Braintree, Mass., to live permanently in their vacation home in Sunapee, N.H. They are in their second summer as bookstore owners.
Like many other independent bookstores in resort towns, Morgan Hill relies on its remote location (the closest competitor is about a 25-minute-drive away), the generous spending of vacationers, and support for regional-interest books and local products. Morgan Hill’s shelves are well-stocked with signed books by local authors such as Tomie dePaola and Mary Lyn Rae. The store also carries locally produced chocolate, puzzles and games. Trail guides are another popular item in the 2,000-square-foot store, which is open seven days a week.
“It hasn’t been without its challenges,” says Miner, who still works as a consultant. But she and her husband, who works at the store full time, enjoy sharing the duties of their mom-and-pop venture: greeting customers, wrapping gifts, talking about books. “We love the change in lifestyle,” she says.
For Steve Crane of Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Del., becoming the owner of a vacation-area bookstore was equally fortuitous. In 1975, Crane was a young physical education teacher in Wilmington when he moved to Rehoboth to be closer to his ailing father. “I knew I couldn’t take care of my parents on a teacher’s salary,” he says, so he thought he could make extra money by running a store, too. His wife, Barbara, also a teacher, had long dreamed of owning a bookstore, says Crane, and “I always want to keep my wife happy.”
Nearly 40 years since opening that first store, which sold mostly candy in a mini-mall, Steve, now 69, and Barbara, 67, own one of the largest independent bookstores in the Mid-Atlantic. At its new location, just a few blocks from the boardwalk, the store sprawls some 14,000 feet. It is open every day but Christmas.
Filling the space, in addition to books, are a cafe and a wide selection of toys, cards and knickknacks. Crane speaks proudly of his diverse product line: “It’s sort of like a grocery store doesn’t just sell groceries.” His store, he says, is “an emporium of good times.” He has featured signings by celebrities such as local vacationers Kathie Lee Gifford and the Bidens as well as children’s events hosted by characters such as Ladybug Girl and Skippyjon Jones.
Crane has also been known to give away chicken and watermelon samples on the sidewalk in front of his store. Even so, he says, “Books are what brings people in.”
Like the Cranes, Jamie Layton became a bookseller somewhat accidentally. In 2002, she was a waitress at the Good Life Gourmet restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., when two colleagues set out to open a restaurant of their own in a historic cottage in nearby Duck. Unfortunately, the building’s septic system wasn’t up to code for a restaurant. So they decided to sell books — and coffee — instead.
They knew Layton was a book lover, so they hired her to be the buyer at their new store, Duck’s Cottage. “I read a lot,” she said, “but I didn’t know anything about retail, publishing or bookstores.”
In 2012, Layton opened her own store, Downtown Books, in nearby Manteo. Layton, 47,has trusted her instincts, steering away from the big, hardcover bestsellers that people can buy cheaper elsewhere and focusing on lower-cost paperbacks and books of local interest, such as “Just Yesterday on the Outer Banks” and Suzanne Tate’s nature series for children.
Layton is confident in her store’s ability to compete with technology. Even if your e-book “says it’s waterproof and says you can read it in the sun, do you want to take it and sit next to the pool?” she asks. “I think people feel more comfortable in sand and water situations with a real book than with a $200 digital device. I would.”
Her main competition, in fact, may be another independent bookstore: Island Bookstore, which has branches in Kitty Hawk, Duck and Corolla. Owned by Bill Rickman, a former chief executive of Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore, and his wife, Ursula, it is a more traditional bookstore: no coffee or tea, few frills. “One of the ways you judge a bookstore is by the poetry section,” Rickman says. “Those books sell quite well. I’m not exactly sure why.”
Layton may have an explanation: the vacation mind-set. “It took me a couple of years not to carry self-help, diet or personal finance books,” she says. “ Nobody wants to read them on vacation.”
But poetry, why not? Especially poems about summer vacation.