Talk about bookstore-library synergy. Early this summer, Chestnut Tree Books, a new independent bookstore, plans to move into shopping center space that the Princeton Public Library has been using temporarily while its main building in downtown Princeton, N.J., was torn down and rebuilt.
"There are a lot of positive feelings about the space," Ira Kaye, who owns Chestnut Tree Books with his wife, Pam, told PW. Before the library moved in three years ago, the site was the location of several bookstores, including an Encore Books outlet and Titles Unlimited. "It's almost as if the space dictates what it's going to be."
Neither enclosed mall nor strip center, the campus-style Princeton Shopping Center, which opened in 1956 about a mile from downtown, has an open center courtyard and a lot of "grassy spaces," as Kaye puts it. Many of the 50 tenants are local, independent stores, ranging from restaurants and jewelry and furnishings shops to a McCaffrey's Market grocery, a branch of New York Sports Clubs and an Eckerd Drugs outlet.
Kaye intends initially at least to stock the 9,600-sq.-ft. space with remainders, publishers' overstocks and some new titles, mainly bestsellers. "I would rather have wider variety and sell at significant discounts," he explained. He emphasized, however, that he is "flexible. I will go with what the clientele dictates."
The owners aim to boost traffic by having a library "drop-off-and-pick-up point" with computer access as well as operating a branch post office. Under the arrangement with the Postal Service, part of a plan to be more competitive with FedEx and UPS, Chestnut Tree Books will run the post office, hire employees and keep at least 8% of revenues. Kaye said he imagines postal customers may browse the bookstore, and bookstore customers' interest will be reinforced by the post office branch. (The main post office in Princeton is downtown and has little convenient parking, Kaye added.)
After the library's move at the end of March, the landlord and the Kayes will make renovations, which will include adding a fireplace and a sitting area. Kaye said he intends to have apples available for customers "as an expression of hospitality." Overall, the goal is to "sell books at inexpensive prices but make the environment not feel like a discount store."
Kaye and his wife, who have no experience in book retailing, attended an ABA booksellers school with Paz & Associates, "have done lots of talking" with booksellers and even worked in general retail recently to get "a feel for the world of sales." (He ran a nonprofit organization in New York City while she worked in medicine for a time.) Kaye is looking for employees with bookstore experience in the areas in which he doesn't have expertise. "Technically, they will be employees, but they'll also be my teachers," he added.
No word yet on how to deal with customers who expect to borrow books for a week or two at a time. Chestnut Tree Books can be reached at (609) 279-2121.