Announcing Our Summer 2022 Partner Bookstore! Gibson’s of Concord, NH (Part One)
by Ann Kjellberg, editor
Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire, takes seating seriously
In 1793 Parson Samuel Hidden gathered together thirty-six of the hardy inhabitants of the town of Tamworth, New Hampshire, to “form ourselves into a society” for the purpose “of having a library established on a safe and equitable footing.” According to Parson Hidden’s memoirs, the families of the town, at its founding twenty years before, “were few and remote from each other … the land was pathless. They found their way from one settlement to another by spotted trees, over steep hills and almost impassable swamps.” Furthermore, “they were in constant fear of ferocious beasts. The wolf prowled about their dwellings by night; the catamount watched for prey; the wild-cat lurked by the foot-path and the bear watched in the thicket.” Due to “the peculiar circumstances of the times,” they struggled to find a pastor. Parson Hidden, recently graduated from Dartmouth, where he subsisted on milk from the cow he rode to classes (which lessened his expenses and “was considered highly commendable”), took the position in 1792 after the town appeared to him in a dream. One year later he had created a library.
When in 1833 the nation’s first public library (indeed, apparently, the world’s!) was established down in Peterborough, the state had already had for generations these scattered “society libraries” supported by membership (Tamworth’s was among the first). In 1891, the New Hampshire legislature approved the Free Library Act, authorizing tax benefits to New Hampshire towns to establish free public libraries. Seven years later, our Summer 2022 Bookstore Partner, Gibson’s Bookstore, the oldest retail operation in New Hampshire’s capital, Concord, and the oldest bookstore in New Hampshire, opened its doors.
We’ve written in Book Post before about the importance of bringing books to rural communities. Our Notebook on bookmobiles described portable libraries reaching remote populations in South Asia and South America and onsite workers and rural readers in our own past via the TVA and the WPA, and Black readers excluded from public libraries by Jim Crow, reached by the bookmobiles of Black sororities. As recently as last year the American Library Association was lobbying for infrastructure funds for libraries to expand rural broadband. We’ve also written about the special pleasures of bookstores and libraries in vacation towns: the prospect of a few days’ respite in a natural setting seems to bring out readers’ adventurous side and prompts special efflorescences in bookselling. And we’ve written too of the value of bookstores as anchors for revitalizing waning industrial towns. Gibson’s of Concord, 123 years old this year, four thousand feet off New Hampshire’s one thoroughfare from Massachusetts to Canada, 1500 feet from the river that was its nineteenth-century equivalent, has participated in many of these stories.
When Gibson’s moved to its current expanded location (ten thousand square feet) in 2013, on the site of a demolished bindery, of all things (the disappearance of paper mills from the northeast has been a signal contributor to the economic woes of its small cities and towns), the developer who welcomed them said he was “particularly excited” to have a bookseller as a tenant, calling the plans “a remarkable commitment to the downtown, instead of a mall. And for an independent bookseller to do that, it's just a great move for this community. It will help anchor downtown.” After losing its farming economy to the more fertile Midwest, and then the industrial economy that replaced it, New Hampshire’s towns and small cities like those around the country have been trying to find ways to thrive. Gibson’s owner Michael Hermann said the expansion was “our statement about what we think Concord can be for the future.” As Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot observed, upon Gibson’s nomination as Bookstore of the Year for 2018, “if you buy at Amazon, the money does not stay in the community. If you want a vibrant downtown, you buy at local bookstores.” Michael Herrman added that he considered that their “primary job as booksellers in 2012 is to put up the best bookstore space we can—to provide the best argument we can for shopping for books in the real world.”
Gibson’s new space expanded popular sections, created a children’s section with dedicated staff, provided event space (Bobby Orr, Pete Buttigieg, Joyce Maynard, David Allen Sibley, Donald Antrim, Ben Bradlee, Jr., and Jamie Raskin have been visitors), absorbed an outpost of a local café, and created new jobs. It supported and benefited from a newly configured Main Street with streets narrowed to slow traffic and sidewalks widened, including an outdoor café for Gibson’s, to encourage pedestrians, adding gardens and pocket parks. When the Vice President came to Concord to raise support for a jobs bill for America’s small towns and cities, she met with Michael Hermann. A report early this year ranked Concord the sixth capitol in the nation for liveability, well ahead of its neighbors, Boston and Montpelier, Vermont. When we partnered with Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina, we noted how observers credited the bookstore as a force in that city’s revival. Gibson’s has a similar prominence in the inviting Concord of today.
Here are some of the interesting local programs Gibson’s has supported: a publishers’ rep night, where readers meet with publishers’ representatives about books coming up; an open mic with the Poetry Society of New Hampshire; a curated romance section with dedicated staff (a bit of a rarity in independent bookselling until recently); classroom book discounts for homeschoolers; and a Student Reviewers Club, giving students bookstore perks for advance reviews of books. I am very interested in booksellers’ programs to collaborate with local business. Gibson’s offers “full-service book sourcing and ordering for businesses, non-profits, schools, and other organizations of any size,” including competitive discounts, free quotes, no-fee ordering, and often free freight. The owner Michael Herrmann works directly with institutional partners, providing the store’s most experienced staff for selection and curation. Businesses Gibson’s has collaborated with include: a community loan fund, the Chamber of Commerce, churches, museums, a dental practice, the National Guard, and the rotary. When Chicago’s Seminary Coop made history by identifying itself as a “nonprofit dedicated to bookselling” one of the creative revenue streams it proposed to pursue were consultancies of this kind, enriching local businesses with a connection to books and ideas and using staff’s abundant book knowledge to wider benefit.
Read Part Two of this post here!
Special thanks to my sister Suzy Kjellberg and Mary Cronin of Tamworth’s 230-year-old Cook Memorial Library for Tamworth lore
Ann Kjellberg is the founder and editor of Book Post.
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