|Heidi and Michael Bender (photo: Alison Rooney)
Early this summer, Heidi and Michael Bender will open Split Rock Books, a 1,100-square-foot independent bookstore, in Cold Spring, N.Y. The pair has years of experience working in independent bookstores in the New York City area, and the decision to finally open a store of their own, they explained, has been a long time coming. When asked exactly how long they've been thinking about opening a bookstore for, Heidi Bender answered: "Forever."
"We've been talking about it basically since we met," Michael Bender elaborated. He has worked as a bookseller at Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo, at Book Court and Bergen Street Comics before they closed, and as a librarian for New York University and the Brooklyn Historical Society. "But it became more serious in the past two years."
"It was really just a matter of experience," added Heidi Bender, who managed Housing Works for three and a half years and worked at a variety of other New York indies, including Book Culture and Book Court. And as something of a consultant, she helped with the openings of both Stories Bookshop and Books Are Magic. "We were at the point in our lives where we're ready to make the move," she said.
Planned to open in mid-June, Split Rock Books will carry mainly new books, with a small selection of used titles. The general-interest store will stock books for all ages, with a back room dedicated mostly to children's books from picture books to middle grade. The Benders estimated that roughly a third of the inventory will be children's titles and said that at first, they'll have a smaller selection of young adult books. Heidi Bender explained that "YA can be very tricky," and they want to get a feel for what local YA readers want before committing too much on that front.
And while the inventory will be general interest, Michael Bender reported that they plan to have a particularly strong history section. Cold Spring, which is located on the Hudson River about halfway between New York City and Poughkeepsie, is home to a large number of history buffs and is steeped in local history, especially from the Revolutionary War and Civil War periods. There is plenty of hiking in the area as well, and Bender said that the store's outdoors, hiking and nature sections will be robust.
The Benders characterized the Cold Spring community as full of creative people, many of whom work in the film industry or are writers. The town is also close to several colleges, and many residents commute to New York City for work. The area is replete with antique shops and vintage stores, and Heidi Bender said they've noticed a definite need for new books. "We both really love used books," she continued. "But this area is really craving a new bookstore."
As for sidelines and non-book items, they plan to keep stock minimal, with a small but carefully selected range of greeting cards, notebooks and journals. Asked if there would be any sort of food or drink service at Split Rock Books, Heidi Bender replied with a definitive no. "It's great for some people," she acknowledged. But having spent years dealing with the New York City Department of Health, she said, "I never want to do it again."
Although the store is still a few weeks from opening, Heidi and Michael already have events scheduled. The first will be a storytime and singalong at the local farmer's market, while the second will be part of the Sunset Reading Series, a nonprofit event series that has been bringing authors to Cold Spring for the past 10 years.
Once the store is up and running, they plan to keep the events going with more storytimes and singalongs, author visits and book launches, as well as book clubs and discussions groups for adults. Heidi Bender said they'd love to partner with other businesses and organizations, including antique shops, a "gorgeous" furniture and design store located next door and the local public library. She added: "We love everything and want to partner with everything."
"What we've been discovering is that Cold Spring has a really great, built-in community of readers and people who love books," Michael Bender said. A widely loved indie bookstore closed down in Cold Spring about 10 years ago, he reported, and now residents are thrilled at the prospect of having a new one in town.
He continued: "Every time we're working in the store, somebody will stop us and tell us how excited they are and that they can't wait." --Alex Mutter