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Concord’s Gibson’s Bookstore lauded as it turns the page on book business

  • Sam Chase (right) and Madison Campbell browse books at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The local bookstore is on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year for 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Pam Peterson sits down to take a look at a travel guide for San Diego at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The local bookstore is on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year for 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Gibsons Bookstore owner Michael Herrmann talks about the store’s appearance on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year last week from the store in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Madison Campbell (left) and Sam Chase browse books together at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The local bookstore is on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year for 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Gibson’s Bookstore owner Michael Herrmann talks about the store’s appearance on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year last week from the store in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Dave Chase browses the shelves during a visit to Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The local bookstore is on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year for 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Rebecca Madore flips the page of a book she’s reading at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The local bookstore is on the “Publishers Weekly” short list for Bookstore of the Year for 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The book is back, as is the local bookstore that sells them.

Remember that funeral we all expected? The one planned for the independent bookstore, which seemed destined to be crushed beneath the weight of technology?

Well, hold the phone. And the book, firmly in your hands, which apparently is what’s happening these days. Shockingly, places like Gibson’s Bookstore have rebounded nicely, after data just three years ago showed a 50 percent decrease in the number of independent book stores over the previous 20 years.

And things at Gibson’s have gone so well, in fact, that it was one of five stores nominated last week for the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year Award.

The others are located in Queens, N.Y.; Boulder, Colo.; Detroit; and Seattle.

“A great honor,” said Michael Herrmann, the owner of Gibson’s. “There are hundreds of great bookstores across the country. I don’t know why we were on the list. I’ve been asking myself that question.”

Herrmann bought Gibson’s in 1994 and moved it downtown in 2013. His silver beard has been synonymous with reading for years, and he admitted that the onset of the internet age – with its Kindle and eBooks and on-line shopping – scared him.

“Everyone was nervous,” Herrmann told me. “But the huge eBook future did not come to pass.”

The reason? The pure cyclical nature of society, Herrmann said. Wait long enough, and thoughts and trends and desires begin to run counter to what had been working.

“There’s a strong movement toward localism,” Herrmann said. “There’s been pressure to live life online, and there’s pressure pushing back to seek more authentic parts of life and to get away from sitting behind a desk all day.”

Jim Milliot, the media contact for Publishers Weekly, echoed Herrmann’s thought about a recent surge in maintaining and adding to the charm of small cities, and Concord’s recent downtown facelift has no doubt helped bring this about. He cited economic factors as well.

“If you buy at Amazon, the money does not stay in the community,” Milliot said by phone. “If you want a vibrant downtown, you buy at local bookstores. Sales have grown at local independent bookstores the last three years. Ever since the recovery from the recession and places like Borders going out of business, they have definitely had a steady comeback.”

Pam Peterson helps fuel the local bookstore engine. She and her daughter have been a staple downtown for 22 years as owners of Gondwana and Divine Clothing. Their run has basically coincided with Gibson’s, and Peterson visits there every week.

Sure, she has Kindle, but that hardly matters.

“Sometimes I just want a paper book,” said Peterson, sitting at a Gibson’s desk around lunchtime Monday. “It takes longer on Kindle to find things I’ve read. I can dog-ear a page and find what I’m looking for.”

Peterson said she shops at Gibson’s for educational books for her grandchildren. She’s bought packages of thank-you notes to express appreciation for Christmas presents. On Monday, she flipped through a travel book, searching for the right places to visit on her upcoming trip to San Diego.

As Herrmann said, people are gravitating away from the online experience, getting out more, asking questions, meeting new people, grabbing a cup of coffee.

“The ambience here is very nice,” Peterson told me.

Madison Campbell, 19, took the bus here from Rhode Island to visit her boyfriend, Sam Chase of Contoocook, also 19. An artist, she bought a leather-bound sketch pad and praised Gibson’s, telling me, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Chase showed old-school colors in a young mind when asked about reading books on a computer.

“I hate the stuff,” she said. “It hurts your eyes. It hurts your neck. It’s not like reading an actual book. And I like to hang out, browse, go to the coffee shop, all in one independent bookstore.”

Sam’s father, Dave Chase, sat nearby flipping through The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip. His mother died from colon cancer last October, so now Dave Chase, the Concord High School boys’ basketball coach, wants to take a trip with his father to one of the few remaining baseball stadiums he hasn’t seen.

He’s leaning toward the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Detroit Tigers, and he appreciated the time Gibson’s offered him while he waited for his son to finish his own search.

“It’s family-oriented, a good atmosphere,” Dave Chase said. “They don’t have the hustle and bustle of the bigger bookstores.”

Pat Carew of Concord sat at one of Gibson’s desks reading with her friend, Rebecca Madore. She mentioned the store is “quieter than the library and is in a good location downtown.”

“Plus, I enjoy the turn of the page rather than using Kindle,” she said.

Elizabeth Ropp said her hometown of Manchester will soon open a local bookstore of its own.

“I hope it’s as successful as Gibson’s,” Ropp told me. “I love this bookstore and I’d love to see more like it. I like to hold physical books.”

So take a bow, Gibson’s and similar stores nationwide, for keeping the idea of ink on paper, of turning pages, of appreciating the feel of a good book alive.

Milliot said the criteria considered for nomination include commitment to community, financial sustainability and creative ways to counter competitors like Amazon and other online retailers.

Herrmann gave the city itself credit, calling Concord “a city of readers.”

And Sam Chase added another layer to this recent phenomenon, telling me, “It’s more than just the books. It’s about the heart.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)