Earlier this summer, Shelf Awareness editor-in-chief John Mutter went on a whirlwind bookstore tour in Massachusetts with New England Independent Booksellers Association executive director Steve Fischer. (See part one, part two, part three, part four and part five.)
After a fun crossing on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, we headed to Bunch of Grapes, in Vineyard Haven, a bright, peaceful, welcoming store that gives no hint of its tumultuous recent history. Owner Dawn Braasch had an emergency to deal with and wasn't able to see Steve and me, so we wandered around the store, and Steve, who once worked at Bunch of Grapes and spends much time on the Vineyard (lucky man), recounted the story. On the Fourth of July in 2008--the start of the summer season--Bunch of Grapes was ruined by smoke and water damage from a fire that started in a neighboring cafe. Owner Jon Nelson, son of longtime owner Ann Nelson, was trying to sell Bunch of Grapes, and locals feared the store would simply shut down. But it re-opened in temporary quarters nearby and miraculously, in October, Braasch, who had been Bunch of Grapes' events coordinator, purchased the store. Steve noted that the Vineyard residents made a point of buying as much as possible to support Braasch, who in June 2009, nearly a year after the fire, reopened a full-scale store across the street from its old location.
Bunch of Grapes' "new" building has one large floor (instead of its more tricky two-story configuration) with plenty of space for events as well as a large front deck. It has a crisp but country feel inside, with wood floors and raw wood fixtures, and stocks a range of adult and children's titles as well as some sidelines.
The store is renowned for its events program, which runs year-round, not an easy task on an island whose population contracts deeply in colder months. Last week, for example, it hosted a sold-out signing for Hillary Clinton, which garnered media attention around the world.
Our final stop was Edgartown Books, on Main Street in Edgartown, also on the Vineyard, yet another store we visited that has new owners.
Jeffrey and Joyce Sudikoff bought Edgartown Books in 2012 after previous owners David and Ann LeBreton had announced they intended to close it. (The LeBretons had purchased Bickerton & Ripley 10 years earlier and renamed it Edgartown Books.) The Sudikoffs immediately hired Susan Mercier as manager (until 2010 she had been the manager under the LeBretons).
Set in a downtown area that looks much as it probably did 150 years ago, the store's building has been beautifully renovated. Last year, the store opened a café, called BTB--Behind the Bookstore--in an extension of the building in the back; this year the café moved into another building in the back that the Sudikoffs purchased. BTB now has more space and between it and the store is an outdoor courtyard shaded by two sailcloth awnings--a delightful place to hang out, rain or shine, and sample BTB's excellent coffee, pastries and sandwiches.
Susan Mercier gave me a tour of the store, readily admitting that the picturesque building's two-story layout and many smaller rooms make it a challenge. Recently she has relocated many sections. Martha's Vineyard-themed books are now in the back on the main floor--where they have more space and can be displayed faceout--because customers wanted new books up front, where "noteworthy" and staff favorite sections are prominent. Children's books for youngest readers are downstairs, while chapter, middle readers and teen titles ("a big part of the business," Mercier said) are upstairs. She added that for "maturing" readers, "it's a big deal to go upstairs." Much adult fiction is downstairs, although mysteries are upstairs.
Now finding its optimal layout, the store is elegant and inviting, with many nooks and crannies for discovering and browsing.
From Edgartown Books, Steve took me to the ferry, where I headed to Rhode Island and a connection to Amtrak. As ever, he was a wonderful host, setting up the tour, doing all the driving, putting me up (and putting up with me) at home and on the Vineyard. He's a great conversationalist, a fount of information about bookselling and publishing and a champion of bookstores and booksellers. The New England Independent Booksellers Association is lucky to have him as executive director.