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May 11. 2014 8:15PM

Littleton's Village Book Store writes its final chapter


Grace Bigelow of Littleton scans some of the remaining titles Friday at the Village Book Store in Littleton. (BOB HOOKWAY PHOTO)

LITTLETON — For the first time in a long time, business was booming Friday at the Village Book Store in the heart of Littleton’s downtown shopping district.

It would also be the last time.

Plenty of loyal readers would say that for decades, the landmark shop was the heart of Main Street. It had certainly been a primary North Country destination for locals and visitors throughout the region.

Although there were bargains galore in the rapidly dwindling bookshelf stock — the shelves eventually went, too — few seemed really happy to be there on the store’s final weekend. The mood was much more wake than party, with little excitement expressed at the discounted finds. There were not many smiles and the familiar friendly banter was missing.

“This is sad. I’ve been coming here ever since I can remember,” Carolyn Moss of Littleton said as she scanned the few remaining books on one table. “There’s good stuff left, but it’s pretty well cleaned out.”

When customers did finally make their way through the throng that formed a human ring around the checkout area, gone were the old familiar faces and voices that used to greet them. The book store’s employees had been replaced by auction house staff members who handled the liquidation sale.

“And they had so much here,” just a few short years ago, said Diana Senturia, who came from across the river in Peacham, Vt. She’s opening a café there, she said, and claimed the espresso machine along with some display cases and other equipment from what had been the Village Book Store’s Corner Café.

The store had indeed been well-stocked: bursting bookshelves, a vibrant and eclectic music department, calendars by the hundreds and a basement level devoted entirely to children’s books and games.

But a few weeks ago, when customers showed up one weekday morning, they were greeted by a brief written message from owner Jeff Wheeler thanking all for their loyalty over the years. The door was locked and the inside dark.

A few were jolted when they couldn’t pull the door open as usual, but most regulars weren’t shocked. The store’s inventory had been dwindling for some time, and it was apparent the business was struggling.

Wheeler didn’t return a message left for him this weekend, but over the past decade or so, his bookshop had been hit by at least three profound forces, none of them good.

Huge Internet marketers, notably Amazon.com, recast the bookselling landscape. Even such once-thriving nationwide retail chains as Borders couldn’t survive that development.

Then came 2008 and an economic downturn that wreaked havoc on such discretionary-income purchases as books and games.

At the same time, Littleton embarked on a major public works project that tore up Main Street’s sidewalks, creating piles of excavation debris that blocked access to businesses. It also eliminated Main Street parking on both sides for a long time, further interrupting local commerce.

And while recently-announced plans for the former bookstore site include what sounds like a sharply-reduced version of some of the old store’s offerings, it’s hard to find anyone downtown these days who thinks things will be the same.

Grace Bigelow managed to hit the shelves early enough to round up a good selection of hiking maps for her son, Jeffrey Hixon of Massachusetts.

He was only 2 and her daughter not yet born when the family started coming to the bookstore in 1977, she said.

Despite her armload of bargains, Bigelow was another shopper who did not appear to be having a very good day Friday.

bhookway@newstote.com


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