Photo: Belmont Book’s Matilda Banker-Johnson with the book purchased by the editor of the Belmontonian.
The long sheets of paper have been taken from the windows, the shelves are almost all filled with books and while you will need to wait a little bit longer to get a cappuccino, the Town of Homes has seen the return of its very own bookstore as Belmont Books opened officially for browsers and bibliophiles on Friday morning, June 16.
“It has taken us five years to get to this point,” said Belmont resident Chris Abouzeid, who with his wife, Kathy Crowley, own the general bookstore.
Abouzeid, who was a bookseller for Porter Square Books for many years, said it’s “basically scary” opening up a new store. “We’re new to retail, and we don’t make any pretense otherwise,” he said, noting they had plenty of help from friends in the business.
The two-floor store – large children’s and young adult sections upstairs – with its new bright interior at 75 Leonard St. is the second business to settle in the renovated Macy’s/Filene’s building following Foodies Urban Market by a month.
Residents who have followed the build-up via the store’s Twitter feed
“We knew this was a community that wanted a bookstore after fighting to try and keep the last one,” said Abouzeid referring to the Charlesbank Bookshop that closed in January 2010. “We wouldn’t have tried this if they community didn’t seem to care.”
And town residents have been eagerly anticipating the opening, many following the daily updates via Twitter and other social media sites.
“All we’ve heard for the last eight months is ‘when are you opening? when are you opening?'” said Abouzeid.
The opening came at an advantageous time as “[w]e really wanted to open this weekend because of Father’s Day and give people an opportunity to buy their summer reading before leaving town [the] schools closing,” said Abouzeid, who along with Crowley, is an author.
Abouzeid and Crowley are entering a market dominated by the online behemoth Amazon (which on the same day purchased Whole Foods) which has millions of titles on hand which they sell at a discount that a solo store can not match.
But evidence indicates that customers are not abandoning the local shop. While the number of bookstores nationwide has declined by 12 percent from 2012 to 2016, membership in an independent booksellers trade group has grown almost 13 percent in the five years to 2016.
“E-book sales have flattened, and folks are showing that they prefer to hold a real book and that includes young people that you might not expect. They are on electronic devices all day long, so a book is more relaxing.”
He also spoke of the environment of a book buying experience is heightened by searching for a new book in a store, especially in one that is new to the community.
“Just the colors, the feeling, the atmosphere. You can’t get that shopping online,” said Abouzeid. The staff, who will be making recommendations and emphasizing customer service, will also be a draw for shoppers.
“Hopefully, over time, we’ll get to know our customers that come in regularly. We’ll know six months down the line before a new book is coming out so we can make a suggestion to buyers who are fans of the author,” he said. “And you’d be surprised that you’ll get seven-year-olds who say, “Do you have this book” and we can answer them right away.”
Store manager Matilda Banker-Johnson, who has been working in bookstores since she was 16, said one of her primaryr4 goals is an attempt to carry books customers want to read – and conceivably purchase – “so they’ll feel like they belong here.”
The store’s inaugural event will feature two local debut authors as “The Salt House” writer Lisa Duffy talks with Crystal King, author of “Feast of Sorrow” about their books on Thursday, June 22, at 7 p.m.
Belmont Books is located at 75 Leonard St. in Belmont Center.