Okay, I apologize for the track pun, but this summer the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., will open a 9,000-square-foot second location in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Since I happen to live in the Spa City now, it's been fun having a front-row seat to witness the creation of a new indie bookshop, especially one whose flagship store, founded by Ed and Barbara Morrow in 1976, I had a personal stake in for so many years as a bookseller.
When I noticed that Northshire Bookstore Saratoga would be hosting a Neil Gaiman event June 20 at the Saratoga City Center--weeks before the store's projected opening--I thought it might be a good time to check in for an update.
"Creating a new store is exciting and daunting," Northshire co-owner Chris Morrow observed. "Our staff at the current store is so good that I'm spoiled. Fostering and enabling a commitment to superior hospitality while paying attention to the details of the art of bookselling will be our main challenge. Right now I am busy designing the space and making fit-out decisions, but soon we will move on to hiring and training."
The Gaiman event is part of an overall "priming the pump" strategy to build on what Morrow described as "already bubbling community enthusiasm for our arrival." The Northshire has also booked bestselling children's author Jeff Kinney to open the Saratoga Arts Fest on June 5. "HarperCollins and Abrams have really come through for us," he said. "I am looking forward to working with all our publishing partners to create a world-class author event program."
While local anticipation for the bookstore continues to grow and the new building gradually takes shape on Broadway, behind the scenes Morrow and his staff are busy choosing floors, ceilings, lights, security systems and "all the other myriad elements that go into creating an elegant and welcoming space." The goal is to create a similar feel to the Manchester shop, with the same custom built fixtures and even a wrought iron staircase leading up to the children's section like the one that has become a signature feature in the Vermont store.
"We should be able to get into the space in early June to do our fixturing and get all the stock on the shelves," Morrow said. "We will be hiring an events/community person first and have them involved in helping us with outreach. As you know well, our success will be dependent on us being a true community bookstore. Saratoga Springs is a gem of a city. It has a great, walkable downtown, a strong independent business sector, a vibrant economy and a Local First mindset."
Morrow acknowledged that finding the right people will be key to long-term success in the new venue: "Creating a bookstore from whole cloth, as opposed to expanding an existing store, has its unique challenges. We will be hiring 20-plus people. So, we need to get them trained in the Northshire way. This will happen in Manchester and in Saratoga. Key management team personnel will be over a lot in the beginning and veteran NB booksellers will be working in Saratoga some, too."
Nancy Scheemaker, who is the general manager of Northshire Bookstore Saratoga, joined the Northshire team in 1998 as a part-time children's bookseller and has held numerous positions since then, including full-time general bookseller, assistant sales floor manager and co-manager. More recently, she has been the community programs director, working "to improve our responsiveness to customer interests, to move the bookstore more into the realm of a cultural center, to build partnerships, and to develop new experiences for customers that increased their loyalty, affiliation and connection to us," she said.
Morrow cited this wide range of experience within the Northshire's structure, as well as her passion for bookselling and focus on community as key factors in the decision to offer Scheemaker the Saratoga position.
As community programs director, she said she has learned "how partnerships with neighboring institutions--going out on a limb a bit with the unexpected event--rarely hurts, and just being in tune with the local and the regional culture are key to the full life and personality of a local bookstore. I'll carry these insights with me to Saratoga."
With fewer than 60 business days until launch, everyone involved with the project has been "considering and planning what the layout will be--what goes where, and how to create the most exciting, warm, accessible, dynamic bookstore experience for each and every person who walks in," Scheemaker noted. "This is an amazing opportunity--but it is tough not to feel the pressure. How to reproduce the very best of a 37-year-old, award-winning bookstore in a new location with an entirely fresh staff?
"Working on this, I'm reflecting on my experiences with community and customers. But as you know, it all comes down to this--the incredible dedication, creativity and passion that comes from our staff. When you have that, everything else falls into place."
The bookstore's July opening happens to coincide with the start of Saratoga's legendary thoroughbred racing season (or, as we call it here, "the season"). This year Saratoga Race Track also celebrates its 150th anniversary. In terms of walk-in traffic potential for a brand new Broadway business, think of it as Christmas... in July... for six weeks. Off to the races indeed. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #1964.