When Borders announced the closing of its Burlington store, everyone wondered how long this classic college town could remain without a downtown bookseller. First, Church Street’s Crow Bookshop — known for used books — stepped into the breach by expanding its stock of new titles.
Now comes big news from Renée Reiner and Michael DeSanto, who own Phoenix Books in the Essex Shoppes and Cinemas. In their store’s holiday catalog, to be published next week, the couple will announce that they “are engaged in an effort to open a bookstore in downtown Burlington. We plan to keep the Essex store open and establish a nearly 6000-square-foot store on or near Church Street within five months,” their statement says.
Because they’re still negotiating a lease, Reiner and DeSanto can’t specify the store’s potential location. But DeSanto does say, by phone, that they are “looking for the community to be really involved in this bookstore.”
What does that mean? When Borders closed, some locals speculated that an indie bookseller might be able to draw on community support, just as Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick drew on demand for its locavore cuisine. “To make something like this work these days, it needs to be a community-sponsored effort,” Paul Bruhn, director of Preservation Trust of Vermont, told Kevin J. Kelley for an article in this paper.
While bookstores aren’t restaurants, Reiner and DeSanto confirm they’re contemplating a business model “philosophically” similar to that of Claire’s. “We believe that the future can be profitable for a unique, local and independent front-list bookstore in downtown Burlington,” their statement reads. “We’re inviting people who are interested in making this project come about to get in touch with us.”
It’s a bold move to open a bookstore in 2011 — but it was in 2007, too, when the couple opened Phoenix in the former Book Rack space. They recently added an art gallery to their store and café, which hosts regular readings and events.
“We’re very excited,” Reiner says of their plans. And, she adds, “we have every reason to think we’re going to be successful at doing it.”
They’re hoping local book lovers are on the same page.