News Column

Turning a new leaf

May 3, 2014

By Neil H. Dempsey, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.



May 03--SALEM -- Selling books can be a tough business, but Denise Kent and Mike Gibson have a secret weapon when it comes to the independent shop they plan to open in the same site that Derby Square Books occupied for the past 39 years.

You may recognize his name: Ted Monroe.

Monroe is half of the brother-and-brother team that ran the landmark bookstore, known for its towering stacks of books, before closing earlier this month. As it turns out, he's been smoothing the way for the next generation of booksellers at 215 Essex St. by divulging some of his own trade secrets, like what publishing houses he used and where the best discounts can be had.

Kent, an estate-planning attorney, and her husband, Gibson, an information technology manager for the National Park Service, decided to give the book-selling business a go when they heard the Monroe brothers were "actually going to retire," Kent said.

"I jumped right on that," she said. "I just love books. I could live in a library or a bookstore if you just threw me a sandwich."

Kent said the store, which isn't far from her office on Church Street, will be renovated and redesigned before opening up again as Wicked Good Books, hopefully by mid-June.

Running the store will be a family affair, with Kent's daughter-in-law helping with day-to-day operations and an aunt providing retail business advice. One of their priorities, Kent said, will be continuing with "what Ted had done right for the past couple decades."

By the way, Monroe didn't just give advice -- he also took Kent on a book-buying expedition to a Beverly destination that she thought was, well, better kept a secret.

Despite Monroe's help, Kent was quick to emphasize the new bookstore is going to be a wholly different animal than the old one. There will still be a wide selection and discounted prices, but there will also be an emphasis on comfort, cleanliness and not feeling claustrophobic.

"It was really crowded ... 'book Jenga' is what people described it as," she said of Derby Square Books. "We're going to be a very different place."

The renovations will bring central heating and air-conditioning to the store for the first time, and will accentuate the building's interior brickwork. Kent said the space is "larger than you think," and that a fireplace had recently been discovered during the work.

"It was behind three layers of books," she said.

In buying the business, Kent and her husband also bought all of its books. Right now they're in storage, but Kent plans to bring them back to the store once renovations are complete -- and "not pile them up to the ceiling like they were before."

Independent bookstores have never had an easy time of it, and the rise of chain booksellers and online marketplaces has only stiffened the competition. Derby Square wasn't the only independent bookstore to close in the past several years -- Cornerstone Books on Lafayette Street, which Kent said she and her husband enjoyed, met the same fate.

Nevertheless, Kent said she is confident that a warm, inviting space where a reader might encounter the "serendipity of finding just the right book" would always trump the impersonal experience of, say, downloading one from home.

"The analogy I make is going out to dinner," Kent said. "There are a lot of people who have food in their kitchen but would choose to go out to dinner."

The reason is that people like to try different foods and enjoy the possibility of coming across something unexpected, she said.

"That's what book-browsing is. We provide an experience you're not going to get clicking online. ... There are some people who just have to have a book in their hands."

And a city like Salem, with its booming tourist trade and world-class art museum, should always have an independent bookstore, she said, so visitors and locals can engage in a "deeper experience."

Wicked Good Books will offer new releases, best-sellers and Salem-related gifts, and Kent said she looks forward to working with local writers and artists. A schedule of readings and signings is being worked up right now, with events beginning during the summer and stretching into October.

"Call me crazy, but I'm really excited," Kent said. "I'm hoping that our little store becomes a hub for the community."

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com.

___

(c)2014 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)

Visit The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.) at www.salemnews.com

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Source: Salem News (MA)


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