Great Barrington's Bookloft goes on the market


Photo Gallery | The Bookloft in Great Barrington

GREAT BARRINGTON — One of South County's oldest and most well-known independent bookstores is for sale, although it's possible The Bookloft won't be going anywhere at all.

Eric and Ev Wilska, who founded The Bookloft almost 42 years ago, placed their small store in the Barrington Plaza on the market last month.

The Wilskas, who announced their intentions to sell the business on their website, have hired Paz & Associates, a Florida-based bookstore training group, to sort through the offers.

As of last week, 22 interested parties had signed confidentiality agreements with Paz & Associates, according to Eric Wilska.

"We don't have any offers yet because everybody's waiting for this year's numbers to come out," Wilska said, referring to The Bookloft's annual sales figures, which are expected to be released next week.

But the Wilska's current lease with Kimco Realty Corp., the owners of the Barrington Plaza, still has four and a half years to run. If the couple can't find a serious buyer, Wilska said they will keep The Bookloft open until their lease expires.

"I don't expect that," he said. "Obviously, we have some serious interest."

The Wilskas founded The Bookloft in May 1974. According to Eric Wilska, it was the second business to occupy the Barrington Plaza, which now includes Price Chopper, K-Mart and several other small stores. Kimco, which also owns the Del Alba Plaza on Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield, is North America's largest publicly traded owner and operator of open air shopping centers.

In their announcement posted on The Bookloft's website, the couple stated they have "enormous gratitude for 42 rewarding years of bookselling." But with their children "far-flung," their first grandchild on the way, and "many life dreams still unrealized" they decided to put the store on the market.

"I would hope that our letter made it abundantly clear," Eric Wilska said. "I'm 65. I'm collecting Medicare. I'm having a grandchild. It's all the usual cliched reasons about retiring.

"We've done it for a long time."

In the letter, the Wilskas described their decision to sell as "bittersweet."

"It's like seeing your kid go off to college," Eric said. "We put a lot of attention into making what is really an iconic store in the Berkshires."

Ironically, the Wilskas' decision to sell The Bookloft comes at a time when independent bookstores are experiencing a revival. Sales of e-books, which were supposed to revolutionize the publishing industry dropped 10 percent during the first five months of 2015, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Meanwhile, the American Booksellers Association reported 1,712 member stores in 2,227 areas in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations in 2010.

"The fact that the digital side of the business has leveled off has worked to our advantage," Oren Teicher, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association told The New York Times in September. "It's resulted in a far healthier independent bookstore market today than we have had in a long time."

That trend has also occurred locally.

"We just had our best Christmas in five years, and our fourth consecutive up year." Wilska said.

Wilska, who ran a used bookstore on North Street in Pittsfield before opening The Bookloft, has a theory on why so many small independent bookstores have struggled.

"I think a lot of bookstores went out of business because they were poorly managed," he said. "In the 1990s, a lot of people opened up bookstores like restaurants but they had no management experience and weren't good at it. It's not unlike what happened to drug stores in the '70s and '80s when the chains came in.

"We've always had the right size, so that's been part of it." Wilska said, explaining why The Bookloft succeeded while others failed. The recession also hit small independent bookstores hard, but The Bookloft managed to dodge that problem "because we had such a loyal following."

"We are very consistent," he said. "That and good people is what makes a difference."

Wilska, who farms and makes maple syrup, said he also plans to devote his energies to developing a barn that he purchased in West Stockbridge that is located near another bookstore that he owns on Depot Street.

"Maybe a book museum," he said. "I can see a bookbinder at work in there and book shows."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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