Hurricane Sandy is just one of several set backs that Chris Jones and his wife, Gina Holmes, have had to overcome to open Monte Cristo Bookshop in New London, Ct., which they regard as the cultural center of Southeastern Connecticut. The storm hit just when they were about to install electricity in the space, which they then had to put on hold for two weeks. Earlier in the year when family money that had been promised to them to start the store fell through, the two turned to Indiegogo to raise $45,000, which they then lowered to $10,000 to get started. Now Jones prefers not to give a firm opening date. But it could be as early as December 1, if everything works out as re-planned.
This summer, Jones and Holmes made a pitch on Indiegogo that a city that’s been touted as “the next Williamsburg [Brooklyn]”—with 14 art galleries, a dozen music venues, and its own music awards, the Whalie—needed a community bookstore to call its own. Beyond that, they wrote, “in a bad economy, working odd jobs, and tired of hunting for yet another low paying part-time job, we decided it was time to put our professional work experience, creativity, and passion to good use and open a much-needed business in the beautiful seaside city of New London.” Their message resonated with others. “We had over 150 individual donors,” says Jones, who worked in retail for a decade and has experience in customer service and marketing. “And half were from our area.”
In addition, Monte Cristo got a boost from New England Independent Booksellers Association president Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books, which is 15 miles away in Mystic. She gave the pair bookselling advice, and in the wake of Sandy fixtures that she replaced along with the flooring of her store. Holmes and Jones also benefited from a closed Borders on Long Island. Initially a used book dealer bought 20,000 new books from the store. When he passed away, his family put the books up for sale on Craigslist. It was trying to pick them up that taught Jones one rule of bookselling Philbrick had passed over, store’s need vans or something to haul books.
Now that the electricity is in after the power company’s two week-hold on new accounts and the walls are built—Jones and Holmes had to finish off the 2,400 selling space from scratch–the pair have had a chance to look more closely at inventory. They plan to split the stock 85% new and 15% used, with about 10% of the store devoted to sidelines. They’re also considering adding vinyl, because of the number of musicians in New London, as well as art work. “Our challenge,” says Jones, “is to take the [bookselling] world we see in PW and at BEA and connect it to the market here.” If all goes right that connection should happen soon. Given the bumpy road to bookstore ownership, Jones says that although he wants Monte Cristo to have lots of community-oriented events, he’s not booking anything until it’s fully open.