By Rod Lee
It is a Wednesday in late February with a touch of spring in the air. Debra Horan is talking about the milestone she has reached with twenty-two years in business as owner of Booklovers’ Gourmet on East Main St. in Webster.
A celebration to mark Booklovers’ Gourmet’s latest anniversary and to thank the public for its ongoing support will take place all day Saturday, March 4th with special discounts, giveaways and raffles from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There will of course be birthday cake as well.
When during a conversation that occurred while she was also attending to her other duties Ms. Horan was asked what she has learned as a retailer since launching the independent bookstore, coffee house and gift shop back in the mid-1990s amid understandable uncertainty about the venture’s prospects for success, she laughed.
“If I knew then what I know now!” she said.
A Webster native and graduate of The Rhode Island School of Design, Ms. Horan needn’t have been concerned, given the inspired vision she had for Booklovers’ Gourmet from the outset as “a gathering place where people would meet, enjoy good books, local art, poetry and music in a cozy, inviting space while sipping on a cappuccino and homemade pastry.”
Establishing a niche with an array of new and used books, hand-selected gift items (many of them made in the U.S. and by local crafters) including pottery, garden and home décor, jewelry, candles, incense and greeting cards coupled with a popular children’s room, monthly book discussion groups, writers groups, author readings and signings, workshops and artist receptions, she has obviously come up with a winning formula. Amazing in this day and age when “independents” have a hard time competing against big-box stores and online buying.
This combination—atmosphere, an abundance of interesting product and a plethora of events throughout the year—is “a big part of why I’m still here,” she said. “It all has to work together. When I opened in 1995 Amazon wasn’t even around. Amazon changed the way we bought books and everything else.”
Ms. Horan understands better than many merchants that for a shop like Booklovers’ Gourmet to survive, the experience of a visit—actually being on the premises—is of paramount importance.
“When I first started I had all the parts of it,” she said of her judicious use of about 1000 square feet of space. “But I’ve expanded. Now I look for every little corner and shelf” to be brimming with merchandise that will appeal. She gives her dad, Ed, credit, for “helping out” in arranging the store in a way that draws out the ambience.
“One of my main goals in running this type of community-based business is to offer cultural opportunities for everyone to enjoy right here in Webster,” she said. Meeting with others and being “exposed to different ideas and viewpoints” is an aspect of the operation she emphasizes. Author events fall into this category. Another one of these will feature an appearance from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 11th of Paul and Ben Eno, co-authors of “Behind the Paranormal: Everything You Know Is Wrong”—“a journey in the paranormal from prehistory to the planets of the future, with over fifty bizarre cases of ghosts, poltergeists, demons, UFOs and other out of the ordinary phenomena.”
Featuring local, regional and national authors is a staple at Booklovers’ Gourmet. So too is showcasing the work of local and student artists throughout the year. Also, the store has an extensive children’s selection of new and used books including Newbery and Caldecott Award winners. “I work closely with local schools and libraries and we have developed a mutually beneficial relationship over the years,” Ms. Horan said. One of the store’s more popular lines is children’s educational puzzles and toys by “Melissa & Doug.”
Her store has been a member of the trade organizations The American Booksellers Association and The New England Booksellers Association from the start. She is also president of the Webster Dudley Business Alliance (WDBA). The WBDA will host Lisa Shea on Thursday, March 16th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Pearle L. Crawford Library in Dudley for a presentation on “Social Media Marketing for Your Business.”
A fan of bookstores, Ms. Horan lists The Brewster Book Store, The Yellow Umbrella and Tim’s on the Cape and Montague in Western Massachusetts as among her favorites.
Booklovers’ Gourmet more than holds its own in this kind of company.
Contact Rod Lee at email@example.com or 774-232-2999.