BookHampton was in trouble.Last week, the collective heart of East End book lovers (and of those who remember the days of mom and pop stores) sank at the news that
On May 5, the 43-year-old literary landmark, which has shops in Southampton and Mattituck in addition to its flagship on Main Street in East Hampton, sent out a call for help—by press release, Facebook post, and tweet.
The open letter, signed by the store’s owner Charline Spektor and her staff, tells a grim tale, but one that has become all too familiar in the age of Amazon and e-readers: “The frozen winter and this very chilly spring caught BookHampton in a grip that has brought us to our knees. We're fighting to have one more summer, and not to be bowed by the writing on the wall that forced our colleagues to close their doors."
The letter goes on to ask the store’s supporters to help save it “book by book,” insisting that “If every one of our friends, neighbors, and book lovers would be so kind as to buy one book today, it would make a true and immediate difference.”
The original BookHampton opened in 1971 on Newtown Lane in East Hampton, and though it struggled to make it through its first winter, quickly became a local fixture and moved to a more spacious location on Main Street. In 1999, its owners, George Caldwell and Jorge Castillo, known as “the Georges,” sold it to a retired California advertising executive, who ran it for six months, before Spektor and her late husband Jeremy Nussbaum bought it from him.
At its height, BookHampton had shops in East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, Southampton and Mattituck.
Today, it has only three locations, and though the East Hampton store remains a hub of literary activity—author readings, book signings, reading clubs—it was forced several years ago to move across the street into cozier quarters.
“The demographic of the Hamptons has changed,” Spektor recently told Patch. “The good fortune is that people can afford books and libraries and and multiple homes. The downside is the lack of community. Our core community—our loyalty base— has diminished.”
She added, “Of course, we do still have a devoted community of readers—just a smaller one.”
The vicissitudes of running a business in a seasonal resort town are part of the problem.
“We’re a bookshop 12 months of the year,” Spektor said. “But BookHampton readers are primarily readers for 10 weeks of the year.”
Then, of course, there’s the behemoth otherwise known as Amazon, which is gobbling up an ever-growing chunk of a dwindling publishing market, transforming readers’ tastes in the process.
“The literary community,” Spektor said, “made a pact with the devil years ago and the readers are not going to return to the literary bookstores.”
To help offset the loss of sales at BookHampton, Spektor has created a program that encourages customers to buy $1,000 gift certificates and donate them to local schools to add books to their libraries.
“It helps us, and it helps the schools,” she said.
Now, Spektor and her staff are asking members of the local community to help save BookHampton by buying a book, in person or online. Since the stores are known for their knowledgeable staff, here are a few suggestions from some of the men and women behind the East Hampton counter.
William Taylor, who has worked for BookHampton since 1999, putting in time at all of its locations, recommends Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winning “The Luminaries.”
“It’s by the youngest ever of the Booker prize winners. It’s historical fiction, with symbols and layers—a historical mystery set in New Zealand, with a Maori journey that is far from ordinary.”
Taylor Rose Berry, an employee of three years, suggests “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
“It’s a murder/psychological mystery—dark, intriguing, multi-layered—about a first time author whose life comes apart just as her book is coming out.”
Kim Lombardi, a five-year BookHampton veteran, recommends “Love, Nina” by Nina Stibbe.
“Written by a nanny who took care of the children of the London Review of Books’s editor in the 1980s, it’s a wonderful collection of letters home that is fantastically droll and escapist."
To find out more, or to buy a book, visit BookHampton's website.