Mitchell’s Book Corner keeps Nantucket, Mass., residents and summer people stocked with page-turners. Fans of local authors Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer, and Nat Philbrick go to Mitchell’s to snag a personalized copy of their latest or order editions with custom swag, and the second-floor Nantucket Room welcomes readers with leather chairs and island literature. The shop is home to the annual Nantucket Book Festival, established by proprietor Wendy Morton Hudson a decade ago.
The shop is “an absolute institution” on Nantucket, Hudson says. She remembers former owner Mimi Bemans, whose parents founded Mitchell’s in 1968, as a “longtime bookseller in the old-school model,” enthusiastically pushing books into the hands of CEOs and everyday vacationers who dropped by. (Bemans died in 2010.) “If the store were to go, Nantucket would be losing its soul.”
Hudson got her bookselling start at Nantucket Bookworks in 1995, the same year she and her husband, Randy Hudson, established Cisco Brewers with a brewing kit and a dream. She bought Bookworks from Patty and Prenny Claflin in 2000 (“They totally held my hand for the first year”) and kept an eye on Mitchell’s, a few blocks away.
In 2008, investor Wendy Schmidt bought Mitchell’s from Bemans and now serves as “philanthropic landlord through her nonprofit organization ReMain Nantucket,” says Hudson, who became Mitchell’s proprietor in 2012. Mitchell’s and Nantucket Bookworks operate as the entity Nantucket Book Partners. She explains that Mitchell’s, due to its arrangement with ReMain Nantucket, “operates on a percentage basis, with the rate informed in part by ABACUS, the ABA’s financial survey tool that’s invaluable in running a store.” ReMain was established to support Nantucket’s downtown year-round, so operating costs are scaled according to the local economy. Business has been strong, Hudson notes: “Last year we had such success that we were able to do more profit sharing than usual, with sizable bonuses.”
If summers bring foot traffic and outdoor signings—Azar Nafisi (Read Dangerously) and Tiya Miles (All That She Carried) are scheduled for the Book Fest—cooler months mean a different kind of hustling. Over the winter, Mitchell’s basement fills up with preorders and future beach books. “We have more than 5,000 preorders for Elin Hilderbrand’s The Hotel Nantucket—we’re getting pallets of a book that comes out June 14,” Hudson says. “The Hachette offices are amazed. Like, ‘Look at the indies working! She can’t physically sign all these!’ The post office doesn’t know what hit them.”
Hudson credits the efforts of marketing director Tim Ehrenberg, who’s been with Mitchell’s for eight years, for building interest for authors. He’s developed mission-based book clubs for Nantucket nonprofits, provided books for literacy organizations, and partnered with boutiques on a fashion show, with models wearing designer attire and carrying favorite titles on the runway. And, she adds, he’s a preorder campaign wizard. For Hilderbrand’s Golden Girl, five readers received a golden ticket to become a named character in The Hotel Nantucket. Packages for the latter book include a themed keychain and a do-not-disturb bookmark/door hanger. Hudson likens Hilderbrand’s avid fandom to “Harry Potter for beach readers.”
Ehrenberg’s playful promotions caught the attention of the online community Friends & Fiction, a joint venture from authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, and Patti Callahan Henry, who tapped Mitchell’s to create 700 winter subscription boxes. The shop packaged a total of 2,100 signed books with themed mugs, packets of hot chocolate, and confetti.
Such preorders have brought enormous success, says Hudson, who’s gratified by Mitchell’s adaptability. “How often in this industry have we gone up and down? Amazon! E-books! Argh, we’re gonna die!” she jokes. “Whoops, no! Slammed with our busiest time.”