Northern Lights Bookshop & Cafe in St. Johnsbury, Vt., will turn off the lights after 27 years unless a buyer can be found by March 1. The store, which has a staff of 13, has been for sale for the past two years. "The decision to close was the culmination of a lot of things," founder Caroline DeMaio told PW. "We wanted to see what Christmas was like, and Christmas was down 20%. We were also down 20% for the year," added DeMaio, who has co-owned the store with her sister-in-law Vanna Guldenschuh since opening the 40-seat cafe 10 years ago.
Although a deadly fire destroyed the building next door and closed Northern Lights for four months in the first part of 2000, DeMaio attributes the store's problems to other circumstances as well. "It's a small downtown and it's only a block long. It's not easy running a business in a town of 7,000," she said. Or one in a neighborhood surrounded by empty buildings. The cafe helped DeMaio and Guldenschuh make Northern Lights a destination, just not a large enough one to keep the store going indefinitely.
DeMaio and Guldenschuh are willing to help anyone who wants to buy the 5,400-square-foot store. As for the future, DeMaio, said their priority is "concentrating on gracefully getting out of the business. It's very hard right now." Interested purchasers can contact DeMaio at (802) 748-4463.
Across the border, 132-year-old Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, N.H., one of the country's oldest bookstore to be owned and operated by the same family, is also on the selling block. According to general manager and president David Cioffi, whose wife, Ann Stebbins Cioffi, is a descendant of the original founder, "this is a good time to sell. My mother-in-law, Phoebe Storrs Stebbins, who owned the store, passed away a couple years ago. The store was in the estate and we're in the process of settling the estate."
In recent years the bookstore, which is just a block from Dartmouth College, has suffered from the loss of its textbook business, which it closed a year ago. According to Cioffi, ever since the college stopped co-operating with the store to order textbooks, which at one time accounted for 20% of sales, the 6,500-square-foot textbook area "has become an albatross around our necks." The store's music business has also declined. "We sell more blank CDs than CDs with music," says Cioffi, who faces stiff competition from a Borders in W. Lebanon, N.H.
Even as Cioffi pursues possible bidders for the store, he has begun to remake the store's physical layout by subletting portions of the 27,000-square-foot space, which was created over the years by annexing several neighboring buildings. "We're very close to signing a lease with a couple guys who want to put a 1,500-square-foot cafe in the bookstore," says Cioffi, who has also worked out an agreement to lease 3,000 square feet to a real estate firm.
Dartmouth Bookstore's branch store at the Dartmouth/Hitchcock Medical Center is also for sale. Interested buyers may contact Cioffi at (603) 643-3616, ext. 640.