“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” —Gilbert Highet
“We have had a wonderful three days—everyone has been buying books,” said general manager Nancy Scheemaker. “It is a fine beginning to what I think will be a long relationship.”
Northshire’s coming to the Spa City was not always on the owners’ radar. Ed and Barbara Morrow opened Northshire Bookstore 37 years ago in Manchester, Vermont.
“We were New York [City] refugees,” explained Barbara. “We wanted to run our own business together, so for a couple of years we would load up the kids and take these weekend road trips and visit bookstores.”
Those weekend road trips eventually led the family to Manchester Center, where they opened a 1,000 square-foot bookstore. While the store was on the first floor, the Morrows lived downstairs in the small, basement apartment.
Much to the family’s delight, the bookstore was popular and word of mouth was making it a destination spot. But, as the shop grew, so did the inventory and the books began to take over their apartment. The couple decided to move the children’s section to the basement and they moved temporarily to an apartment nearby.
They soon purchased a former inn and restaurant across the street from the bookstore and began the arduous task of renovating the place to house the bookstore. Once done, they moved the books across the street to the new bookstore. A few years later, they added an addition, doubling their bookstore space to 10,000 square feet.
The design of the bookstore, both the one in Manchester and the new store in Saratoga, was always important to the Morrows. Their son, Chris, owns the Spa City bookstore.
“We stress a number of things, like the ambiance,” said Rachel Person, who is in charge of public relations. “We put a lot of emphasis on look and feel. Selection, of course, is also very important. You can see that when browsing the shelves, there is a reader behind [every selection.] They are very carefully selected.”
The selection of books, though, noted Barbara, will tend to differ slightly between the Vermont location and the Saratoga store, giving credit of the quality and vast array of titles to long-time book buyer, Stan Hynds.
“Saratoga is going to have its own flavor—the local history and culture,” explained Barbara. “We are eager to learn about our Saratoga audience and respond to their needs and issues.”
Customer service is also important to the Northshire family, continued Rachel, who was introduced to the bookstore when as a child, her parents would take her to Manchester to visit the bookstore.
“Hospitality is very important. We hire people who like being around other people and like talking about books and know books,” she noted.
But, it was a Spa City resident’s actions that actually got the Morrows thinking that a second location would be a wonderful idea.
After visiting the bookstore in Manchester, Saratogian Pat Friesen started a petition among her friends asking the Morrows to open a Northshire in the Spa City.
“It was four pages long and she sent it to us,” said Barbara, noting that she felt honored that someone loved their store so much that they would actually take the effort to get together a petition and send it to them. That endeavor got them interested in finding out more about Saratoga Springs.
The couple called Friesen and arranged a meeting.
“We immediately got to meet a lot of people,” said Barbara. “We found Saratoga to be a very welcoming community.”
As for e-books, Rachel said they did not see them as competition, but as an added benefit for the bookstore.
“It is not an either, or choice but an and/and choice,” said Rachel, adding that the e-reader experience is very different from a print book. “We will be Kobo ready soon and readers will have a way to purchase their e-books with us as well.”
Scheemaker, who started working for Northshire in 1999, said she is excited about opening the new store on Broadway.
“Northshire has been successful because the owners have been studying and they try to understand and respond to the readers needs and wants,” said Scheemaker. “The staff is also an important component—they help reshape and redesign; and they help people find things they might have known they were looking for. We know Saratoga Springs is a mecca for many reasons and people here like to shop. Clearly the community spoke and wanted another bookstore [on Broadway.] We are very happy to be here.”