Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book crazy in Carriagetown

You've got to be out of your mind opening up a small, independent book store during a down economy, in a post-literate society where indies are gobbled up by old-school, brick-and-mortar behemoths that are themselves feeling the nip of internet monoliths — and she admits it. "Yes, I am crazy," says Joanne Wimberly. "Yes, yes I am." That's what she's been telling the hundreds of people who have found their way to Bertram and Oliver Booksellers, Amesbury's newest book store — the only one, actually — since its soft opening last week, despite the fact that there's no sign (it's on order) or even a banner in the window (she's meeting with the banner people next week). And that's what she told us during a 15-minute conversation that was interrupted by eight paying customers on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when you'd expect people would be off doing other things. So, maybe the she's not as crazy as she lets on.

It's a new chapter in the South Hampton resident's life. Wimberly, a clinical researcher for a Cambridge bio-tech firm for three decades, has always been crazy for books and had long nursed the dream of every book nut — chucking the career and opening a low-key, fun book store. In May, at the instigation of a friend, she decided to take some time off and seriously consider the idea. She came to the conclusion that, crazy or not, she was committed to the idea. She quit her clinician's career in late June and signed the lease on a Main Street storefront just a couple of doors up from the intersection of Friend Street. She named the store Bertram and Oliver Booksellers after two of her cats — currently numbering 16, a number that fluctuates as she adopts the animals from shelters and finds new homes for them. The cats, named after favorite fictional characters Bertram "Bertie" Wooster, from P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves novels, and the title character from Dickens' "Oliver Twist," are not around: They don't have the calm disposition to be store cats. The store has an interesting and surprisingly deep, considering the size of the store, mix of titles — and plans to grow stock quickly. They will also be bringing in authors for meet-and-greets. Nancy Mellon, the author of "Body Eloquence: The Power of Myth and Story to Awaken the Body's Energies," will be there from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14.

But back to the original question, crazy or not, to open a book store right now, smack-dab in the middle of Amesbury? "It may be crazy, but it seemed like the right thing to do," Wimberly says. Besides, the economy may have hit bottom, or so the economists say. "We could be turning the corner. I want to be in position when it does to catch the wave."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Bertram and Oliver Booksellers, 74 Main St., Amesbury, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, Friday hours are extended until 8 p.m. For more information, call 978.388.3665 or check out its web here.

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