Today we hear from Patricia Pelletter Donovan, the co-owner and manager of The Book Nook in Dunkirk, New York. Patty and her husband, Rick, took over the store from Patty’s father, and it’s still a family affair—their son helps out when he’s not teaching English. After forty years in the bookselling business, both Patty and her husband look forward to another forty!
Below, Patty writes about the important relationship between a community and its bookstore; hosting the coach of the Buffalo Bills; and how e-book publishing has changed her customers.
How did you come to work in the bookselling business?
My father got into the business in 1968 when I was in elementary school. I worked there from that time (when I was ten years old) until I left for college—where I majored in Business Management and Marketing. I returned after college with my fiancé to help my father run the store, and over the next few years my fiancé-turned-husband got involved in running the store as well. My father began handing off the store to me and my husband in the mid-80s when we had our first child, and we have run the store ever since!
What is your favorite part of your job?
As a businesswoman, I enjoy the feeling of success when I know my business is in the black. In general, I love all the aspects of managing in the book business—buying the stock, talking to customers, setting up events and generally being on the floor and working the register! I started working the register when I was ten-years-old, and there is nothing I’ve done since that compares with the simple pleasure of ringing out customers when the store is busy. You might say it’s a guilty pleasure of mine.
Describe your bookstore.
The Book Nook was my father and mother’s creation back in 1968. My father had run Park Shoes for many years, but with the advent of sneakers had decided to do something different—our store was the result. Located in the center of the Dunkirk-Fredonia plaza in the middle of northern Chautauqua County, we’ve serviced the area for more than forty years from our 3,000 square-foot store. The author signings and other events we hold are memorable and always bigger than life, but what really makes our store special is the personal relationship we develop with our customers and our community. So many businesses are designed to service a community without really being a part of it. I can’t imagine working in that kind of environment. We know most of our customers by name (and book preference!); local book clubs’ book selections are the first thing people will see walking into the store for 10 months out of the year; and our counter is always plastered with posters for local events or reminders to buy tickets to the local school’s latest productions or to the county fair.
What is the most memorable event you've hosted in your store?
My husband (as an avid Buffalo Bills fan) would say that the year we hosted Marv Levy (long-time Bills coach) for a book signing was the most memorable. Throngs of people filled the store and spilled out into the street, and Marv himself even said it was the best run signing he’d ever been a part of. For me, the most memorable event was our first big author signing in the early 1980s with Roxanne Pulitzer. That was before author signings were popular or even common! It was the first time we’d ever done something that big, and it was tremendously exciting to have hundreds of people in the store to meet a local-turned-national celebrity. We combined the book signing with a sort of reception; we served hors d’oeuvres and encouraged people to mingle. It was all very overwhelming!
What are you reading right now?
I have an ARC of The Cross Gardener by Jason Wright (author of The Wednesday Letters and The Christmas Jars) which won’t come out until March. The title made me think that the gardener would be angry, but it refers to one who tends to crosses! I liked Wright’s other work, and this is no exception. It’s a fast-read (a lot like Richard Paul Evans’ The Christmas Box) and delves with grace into the depths of loss. It’s both thought-provoking and readable while at the same time holding your excitement and inspiring you to move forward with life.
What are your current top-selling books?
New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub (a Dunkirk native and former member of our staff) has a few new books out in the last few months, and her newest series title (Lily Dale: Discovering) is doing very well in our store. The newest Wheel of Time book (The Gathering Storm) is also doing very well—our customers have high hopes for this inheritor of the Jordan line! The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (#4) has also been flying off the shelves. We have a great children’s section, and Jeff Kinney has a shelf all to himself these days.
Why is it important for a community to have a good independent bookstore?
Community life centers on community retail. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true! Local grocers, fruit-stands, hardware stores, restaurants and booksellers form the backbone of daily interaction among community members. We’re less than a mile from the University of SUNY Fredonia and our community places a very high priority on education and literacy. Access to the depth, breadth and diversity of merchandise carried at and available in independent bookstores is a veritable requirement for worldliness, community literacy and good citizenship. No online vendor or big box store can—or would—stock a huge variety of local interest titles, keep a tally of which books in the such-and-such series you have already bought and which you need to order, or offer that first-time local author a table alongside best-selling authors like Wendy Corsi Staub.
What do independent bookstores offer that big-box stores don't?
Everything. Independents offer the community their very lives. Independent bookstores rely on their communities for their existence—and while some communities may not realize it, cohesive communities rely on their bookstores just as heavily. To name a few things we do that chains do not: we contribute a greater percentage of our income/profit to local charities (monetarily and with our time), as a free service we sell tickets for the local school plays and musicals, we locate both in- and out-of-print books for our customers and we even provide a location for paper recycling.
How has the emergence of e-books changed your business?
What we’ve noticed from the emergence of e-books has been almost totally negative. Even putting the loss of physical sales aside, the customers and community members we’ve talked to who have bought e-book readers or who buy e-books have been largely guided in what to read by their online sources; they’ve restricted or pared down their reading lists to accommodate what they can get online; and they’ve stopped giving books (in physical or electronic form) as gifts to their friends and their children. It hasn’t changed our business so much as it’s changed our customers. Before e-books, book ownership was a thing to be prized, a goal to be lauded and a visible symbol of success and intelligence. E-books have tarnished that gilded image, turning people who used to look for integrity in the printed word into those who think that Wikipedia is a far more accurate and dignified source than anything in print.