When the Atlantic Books regional chain closed in late 2011, it left a particularly large hole in several New Jersey shore towns and the capital of Delaware. With the opening of Acorn Books in Dover in the middle of September, three of the communities Atlantic Books served now have bookstores.
“We don’t bank on the fact that we’re the only game in town. One of the first things you notice when you walk in here is it’s very warm and inviting,” says Ginny Jewell, who launched Acorn Books with Marie Shane. The two former Atlantic Books employees chose a much smaller footprint for their new store than the 16,000 sq. ft. Atlantic Books that Acorn replaced. But in this case less (or 5,000 sq. ft.) means just as much or even more to the community, as evidenced by the appearance of Delaware Governor Jack Markell and U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons at the store’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
“It is tough starting over,” says Jewell, who traded her severance for shelving from Atlantic Books’s Rehoboth store. Where Atlantic Books had been known for its selection of bargain titles and discounting on new ones, she and Shane are providing customers with different price points by shelving new books and used side-by-side. The store sign hearkens back to its predecessor; Atlantic Books also used an open book as its logo.
Acorn Books, which is still building its inventory, has already held its first event with local writer Corley Olsen, author of Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Jewell and Shane plan to add story time for young children and reading groups soon, and are working on certifying the store as a slam location for poetry slams. They are also looking into serving beverages and treats. “Whatever the interests in the community are, we want to provide that,” says Jewell.
Another former Atlantic Books employee, Tony Herr, opened Cape Atlantic Book Company in Cape May, N.J., with Patrick Young over Memorial Day weekend. His decision, he says came down to needing a job. “That’s the simple economics of it,” says Herr. Like Shane and Jewell, Herr got shelving from Atlantic Books but chose a smaller location, just under a thousand sq. ft. He also tinkered with the book mix. Where Atlantic Books had been two-thirds new, one-third bargain; Cape Atlantic is three-quarters new and one-quarter bargain.
Herr says that some of the changes at the store are due to the fact that he didn’t have leverage to get as many good remainders. Although he’d like to grow his children’s and YA sections, which were a significant part of Atlantic Books, those are areas he’s not as comfortable ordering for at this point. Eve so, , says Herr, “we’re doing much better than expected.” Strong sellers like Fifty Shades of Grey haven’t hurt nor have special orders. Herr’s found that a lot of locals prefer to have him order books for them than do it themselves online.
Deanna Wilson and her husband, John Wilson, had no bookstore experience when they decided to take over the 16,000 sq. ft. Atlantic Books location in Stone Harbor, N.J. Worried about what would happen to the store’s customer base once it closed, they opened Stone Harbor Book Shop almost a year ago exactly on October 7, less than a week after the Atlantic Books closed. “Always in the back of my head,” says Wilson, who grew up in the food business and also owns neighboring Jack’s Shack, “was that I couldn’t imagine the town without a bookstore.”
Like Herr Wilson does well with special orders and bestsellers. She still orders Fifty Shades of Grey by the case; her number two title is Gone Girl. In addition to books, Stone Harbor also sells educational toys and has a Papyrus card section. Wilson plans to put her food business knowledge to use soon by opening a café in the bookstore.
“I have Atlantic Books’s sales records for 2010 and 2011,” says Wilson. “Compared to what they did, we’re not far off. It’s above what I expected.” As a former Atlantic Books customer Wilson benefited from knowing the market before she opened the store. She also understands the area’s demographics from her restaurant business.
And there could be a fourth store in another Atlantic Books location. At least one of the new store owners was approached by a former manager from Fenwick Island, Del., about opening a bookstore.