Chapters Bookstore to close July 21

Posted

Wednesday June 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Chapters Bookstore, one of the only independent book shop in the city, will close its doors for good in July, exactly three years after it opened to much hurrah as a symbol of North Street's revitalization.

Susan and Leo Robert, who own the store with Aimee McLear, cited the disruptive $2.8 million construction project on North Street as the last straw for the book shop that opened just before the economy crashed and has teetered fiscally ever since.

The Roberts, whose primary occupation is ownership of Kid Zone Child Care and Transportation on Lyman Street, said they will continue to operate Chapters as an online business, processing bulk orders at a discount for book clubs, schools and other clientele.

The North Street storefront, which opened during a Third Thursday event in July 2008, will close after Third Thursday on July 21.

Chapters' leadership praised downtown-centric events like Thursday night shopping during the holidays, Third Thursdays and the ethnic fair, which always brought in new customers. But they also said no amount of street fair seemed able to counter the effects of a frail economy, a rapidly changing book business, and the simple truth that it is hard to get customers to remember to buy local when a big box store is more recognizable.

"We've been trying to really make it work for a year now, and it's been difficult," said vice president and bookseller Kelly Wright. "I don't think it's Chapters or Pittsfield or North Street; I think it's our industry."

Looking out from Chapters' reading room to the construction outside on Tuesday, Leo Robert wondered if now was the best time for the project, given the fragility of the economy and the sensitivity of downtown business to factors like visibility and convenient parking.

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Sales in 2011 began high, according to CFO Tracy Sheerin, but when the construction fences went up, the customers disappeared, she said -- amounting to a 50 to 70 percent dip in purchases at the bookstore.

Sheerin said the storefront will close with its owners financially "even," but would not elaborate.

Steven Satullo, former owner of Either/Or, the previous book shop on North Street that closed in 1995, said Chapters' effort was "noble and dedicated," but that chain store competition and a lack of resources -- problems he also faced -- were too great.

"They were under-resourced and couldn't reach that critical mass of inventory to make it a place that people were eager to come and browse," said Satullo, who is now the book buyer for the Clark Art Institute's museum shop. "It just needed a little more oomph ... The key is just having an incredible selection, giving people a feast for the eyes and the mind."

Chapters offers free writing workshops, book clubs, and children's reading hours, and is also home to many local authors' readings and signings. But, its owners said, with more readers either spending less or turning to the Web, to e-readers, or to stores like the Barnes & Noble on Hubbard Avenue, Chapters hasn't logged sufficient sales.

The bookstore has had loyal fans over the years, owners said, but it wasn't enough.

"Trying to get Main Street back, the people have to be there to support the stores, and that's not there," Susan Robert said.

Chapters sells new books while another independent book store in Pittsfield, The Book Shelf in the Elm Street Shops Plaza at 180 Elm Street, sells used books at discount rates.

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243.


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