Six stores from Falmouth to Provincetown stay ahead of the competition by spotlighting local authors, offering rare books and finding creative ways to attract customers.BY MEGHAN K. HILL • PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL BLACKMORE
Across the country, the ever-growing e-book market continues to push chain bookstores to their demise. Yet the smaller, niche independent bookstores are seemingly thriving. This is especially true on the Cape, where local bookstores are proving print is not dead, thanks in large part to a dedicated core of readers who have a penchant for offbeat proprietors, alternative establishments and Cape Cod lore. There’s no denying that there’s just something about an indie bookstore that leaves one thinking, “If these shelves could talk …”
Cape Cod bookstore owners, heralded for their excellence in the business of curating exceptional, thoughtfully culled collections, have been hard at work establishing a competitive advantage over their online competition. Local stores offer something offline that the e-market could never compete with, rendering their services irreplaceable: the ability to cater to the individual needs of their customers.
Owners: Matt and Cherry Reid
Biography: Matt and Cherry Reid met while working for the Musicsmith store, originally located in the Cape Cod Mall, in 1978. After many years in the industry, the pair eventually took ownership of the store in Orleans in 1995.
Store’s specialties: Cape Cod titles and rare and out-of-print books. Booksmith Musicsmith holds a reputation for accommodating customers’ requests. “Special order service is our strongest point—we can find any book, CD, record or movie in the world—in print or not,” says Matt. “We have a large magazine selection, many ‘boutique’ items to browse, and we are dog friendly!” On the music side, the store supplies sheet music, CDs, DVDs, vinyl records, T-shirts, guitar strings and other musical and electronic accessories. The store also offers a custom CD and DVD service, restoring old tapes, records and videos to CD or DVD.
Matt and Cherry’s picks: “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins, and “On Pluto,” by Greg O’Brien.
Most memorable customer request: A hands-free magnifier.
Booksmith Musicsmith relocated in February from Skaket Corners to the Staples Plaza,
Rt. 6A, 508-255-4590.
Owner: Tom Phillips
Biography: Joyce Phillips fulfilled a lifelong dream of opening the store, which is best known for its collection of Cape Cod, New England and nautical books. Readers seeking local authors’ works will also fare well here, as the store has partnered with nearby Cape Cod Writers Center, and has become an important part of the Cape Cod artist community by spotlighting authors, musicians, artists and photographers. “We give our local authors a home,” says owner Tom Phillips, who is accompanied to work by Emily Dickinson, his soft-coated wheaton terrier.
Store’s speciality: Books by the Sea lends itself well to “serendipitous browsing,” says Martha Powers, the store’s assistant manager, who welcomes special requests and offers a collection of half-priced paperbacks.
Tom’s picks: “A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel,” by Anne Tyler, and “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr.
Most memorable customer request: “Wrinkles Don’t Hurt: Daily Meditations on the Joy of Aging Mindfully,” by Ruth Fishel.
874 Main St., Osterville, 508-420-9400, www.booksbythesea.net
Manager: Vicky Titcomb
Biography: Family-owned and -operated since 1969, Titcomb’s Bookshop boasts a popular book club as well as “Meet the Author” book signings. The store encompasses three floors filled with thoughtfully chosen new and old books, creative toys, puzzles and cards. Store manager Vicky Titcomb is particularly proud of the children’s selection. During its 40-plus years, Titcomb’s has fostered a very close relationship with customers and authors alike. “We are very fortunate to have such a loyal customer base,” says Titcomb. “We have generations of families who come year after year from all over the country. We are really, truly grateful for that.” At Titcomb’s, customers can browse new releases, used, rare and bargain books.
Vicky’s picks: “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr, and “The Secret Wisdom of Earth,” by Christopher Scotton.
Most memorable customer request: To stage a wedding proposal in the store, placing the ring inside an antique book that had been purchased here years before.
432 Route 6A, East Sandwich, 508-888-2331, www.titcombsbookshop.com
Owner: Eric Linder
Biography: A gatherer of out-of-print books, Eric Linder has been in business for 35 years, and hosts numerous weekly author events during the summer. “We have an extensive collection of books in almost all categories,” he says.
Store’s specialties: Featuring an exhaustive selection of new and used books, Yellow Umbrella’s shelves are home to contemporary fiction, nonfiction, literature, poetry, Cape Cod titles and children’s books. “Everything is unique about our store,” says Linder. Not only does Yellow Umbrella offer bestsellers, but also rare, vintage and out-of-print books. “If someone is looking for any Cape Cod title—brand new, used or out of print — they’d be likely to find it in our store,” adds Linder. “And, if what a customer is seeking is not in stock, we’ll make every effort to get it.”
Eric’s picks: “The Lightkeeper’s Wife: A Novel,” by Sarah Anne Johnson and “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown.
Most memorable customer request: A dictionary of horology in four languages.
501 Main St., Chatham, 508-945-0144, yellowumbrellabooks.net
Biography: Founded in 1932, the bookstore has been coined a “good old-fashioned bookstore” by devoted customers. Owner Joel Newman turned 96 in September, and is revered by locals and seasonal customers as “a gentleman and a scholar,” says store manager Nan Cinnater, at right. “We see customers return who bought their first book here 40 years ago in our children’s section—that happens all the time. And they bring their kids and their grandchildren. It is incredible.”
Store’s specialty: Titles that examine Cape Cod, Provincetown, history, natural history and art. The shop is well known for its vast children’s section as well as its wide array of local authors’ works and numerous classics. Cinnater says, “People think we have old and classic books—and we do—but we also have the newest books and the bestsellers.”
Nan’s picks: “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal, and “The Days of Anna Madrigal: A Novel,” by Armistead Maupin.
Most memorable customer request: “Prayers That Rout Demons: Prayers for Defeating Demons and Overthrowing the Powers of Darkness,” by John Eckhardt.
246 Commercial St., Provincetown, 508-487-0964
Owners: Sara Hines, Mary Fran Buckley and Eileen Miskell
Biography: Carol Chittenden started Eight Cousins with her mother, Betty Borg, in 1986. The bookstore opened at 630 Main St. and then moved in 1992 to its current location at 189 Main St. Two bookstore employees, plus an area business owner, took over ownership of Eight Cousins in the first week of January this year.
Early beginnings: Eight Cousins was originally a children’s specialty store, but its stacks have swelled to a more diverse collection of books for teens and adults as well. “The store has grown so much,” says Chittenden, who was excited to pass ownership on to some of her devoted staff members. Comprised of academics, nature lovers, foodies and adventurers, the staff places tremendous emphasis on children’s literacy and have partnered with local schools in support of the schools’ book clubs.
Store’s speciality: “Our staff hand-picks every book you’ll find in our store. We are all active readers and extremely passionate about the integrity of independent stores, the industry and the community,” says Hines. She also points to their signature wrapping as a unique perk that customers love. “We’ll customize the wrapping for the taste of the recipient, at no extra charge.”
Staff picks: “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth,” by Christopher Scotton, and “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins.
Most memorable customer request: “Poetry for Young People: Edgar Allan Poe,” by Brod Bagert.
189 Main St., Falmouth, 508-548-5548, www.eightcousins.com