The last few years have been rough for independent book stores across the nation. A poor economy, rising costs of production, proliferation of e-readers and an increasing presence of classics available for free online are all factors which have led some to speculate that these mom-and-pop shops will soon go the way of the horse and buggy.
Outside of hip fringe-city streets like those of Cambridge, Massachusetts, it can difficult to find privately-owned book stores in the suburbs. But a major exception to that trend is Cape Cod itself.
There are at least 18 small business bookstores, not including those found on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. That’s a pretty impressive sprawl of stores for a relatively small piece of suburbia.
One would assume that the Cape’s highly seasonal economy would have damaging effects on small specialty stores like book shops. But CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Wendy Northcross said the summer season brings in such a copious and diverse wave of people that bookstores tend to make enough money to get them through the year.
She speculates that the content found in bookstores during the summer is part of the equation. Tourists of all kinds have one destination in common when they come to the Cape: the beach. And what goes swimmingly with a sandy session in the sun?
Northcross says that Cape Cod bookstores take great care to stock summery selections, including titles of intrigue from local authors, when the season is right. Although there’s a Barnes and Noble in Hyannis, many customers choose the smaller shops for their knowledge of all things Cape Cod.
This isn’t to say that these shops don’t get any business in the winter. Some small stores, like Books by the Sea (soon to be in a new Centerville location), have capitalized on the very thing that supposedly threatened physical book sales in the first place: technology.
While the rise of Kindles and e-readers have offset physical book sales, the irrevocable take-over that was predicted has proven to be incorrect. People still buy actual books, especially if their unique tastes can be made to feel catered to and cared about.
That’s how Books by the Sea sees it. They’re all about letting their staff help customers with tailored selections, but if a shopper already knows exactly what they want, they can order it directly from the store’s online shop.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Isiah Thomas Bookstore, 4632 Falmouth Road, Cotuit. While their website is far from the most advanced, their actual store is a brilliantly stacked marvel any bookworm would gasp to behold. This bright pink building from the mid-1800s houses over 70,000 books, many of them rare.
Larger chains did spell the end for a few small businesses, Northcross confirmed. But the level of customization and adherence to Cape Cod culture found locally create a demand that larger stores have difficulty meeting.
It also helps that Cape Cod’s population tends to have a higher level of education. As Northcross put it, “many people retire here smart,” and therefore have the means to buy books from the more expensive boutique book stores.
But of the 18 shops found on Cape Cod, the majority of them offer used selections, or have completely used-only stock.
The famed Parnassus Books (220 Route 6A, Yarmouth Port) has sold used and rare books since the late 50s, and doesn’t show any sign of stopping soon. They specialize in regional and cultural titles, books for literally every intrigue.
Other areas of the state, such as Berkshire County, mimic the Cape with their own tailored small business bookstores selling wares which detail the way of life surrounding them. They also have a highly seasonal economy like our stretch of sand.
While some claim the age of the printed page is coming to a close, it is hard to argue the same is true for this region when some of Cape Cod’s most treasured landmarks are independent book stores. Check out a list of almost all of them below.
· Brewster Book Store, 2648 Main Street, Brewster
· I Cannot Live without Books, 314 Main St, West Dennis
· Mary’s Bookstore at Scorton Creek, 604 Route 6A, East Sandwich
· Eight Cousins Books, 189 Main St, Falmouth
· Bookstore & Restaurant, 50 Kendrick Ave, Wellfleet
· Priory Books & Gifts, 5 Bay View Drive, Orleans
· Main Street Books, 46 Main Street, Orleans
· Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints, 4632 Falmouth Road, Cotuit
· Titcomb’s Bookshop, 432 Route 6A, East Sandwich
· Parnassus Book Service, Inc, 220 Route 6A, Yarmouthport
· Harvest Home Books, 187 Main St, Sandwich
· Market Street Bookshop Inc, Mashpee Commons, 31 Market St
· Herridge Books, 11 Main St, Wellfleet
· Booksmith/Musicsmith, Orleans Marketplace, 136 Route 6A
By CapeCod.com Staff