Rob Dougherty Launches Campaign to Open Allentown, Pa., Bookstore

Clinton Bookshop's Rob Dougherty and Harvey Finkel

Rob Dougherty, New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association board member and manager of the Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, N.J., has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a new independent bookstore in downtown Allentown, Pa. He is seeking to raise $25,000 through the crowdfunding effort and hopes to open the roughly 1,000-square-foot, general-interest store in September.

Dougherty, who has lived a short walk away from downtown Allentown for years, said he already has his eye on a space along the city's art walk, which is a three-block stretch from the the art museum to the city center that's full of shops, eateries and art galleries. The location he has in mind has a "Starbucks within 50 paces," and a "fantastic" restaurant across the street. And even before he and his partner, Harvey Finkel, put the Clinton Book Shop up for sale in February, Dougherty added, he thought Allentown was a perfect spot for a bookstore.

"Downtown Allentown is thriving," he said. In recent years the city has seen an uptick in local businesses, restaurants and the arts, the creation of a new sports arena called the PPL Center, and a boom in high-end apartment buildings. "The resurgence of the city has been insane over the last three or four years."

Dougherty hopes to open his new Allentown store in this space.

Initially, Dougherty plans to sell all new, general-interest titles, and he added that because of the demographics of downtown Allentown, he'll likely stock significantly more adult books than children's titles. He said he's very excited about the possibility of running lunchtime events and generally plans to "utilize the contacts I've made over the last 15 years" to build the store's events program. As far as a children's section is concerned, he said he has talked to Kirsten Hess, owner of Let's Play Books, the children's bookstore in nearby Emmaus, Pa., about possibly running a Let's Play Books pop-up store within his new store, but the idea is "pretty fluid."

At the moment, the store has no name. Dougherty said he had thought of going with the "Allentown Book Shop," but chose instead to run a contest to decide both the store's name and its logo at the suggestion of a friend. With the contests, he hopes to "tap into the local arts community."

Donors to the crowdfunding campaign can receive things like gift credits to be used when the store opens, a free hardcover book, and various bookstore memberships, which include benefits such as 10%-20% off purchases, free books each month with a minimum purchase, priority seating at events and more.

In the months since Dougherty and Finkel put the Clinton Book Shop up for sale, a number of interested parties have emerged, with one group being "pretty far along in the process" but not yet at the point where bids have been accepted, he reported. He told Shelf Awareness that money raised through crowdfunding will go toward opening the Allentown store, with the balance "more than likely" coming from the sale of the Clinton Book Shop.

"I'm not done," said Dougherty. "I'm on the board of NAIBA, I want to stay involved with the board. I've met a lot of great people. And I don't want to go back to being a therapist." --Alex Mutter

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