Northshire Bookstore Turns 40

In September of 2016, Northshire Bookstore, one of the Manchester’s most beloved independently owned businesses, celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Northshire Bookstore was established in 1976 by Ed and Barbara Morrow after they moved here from Westchester with their two young sons, Chris and Andy. They knew they were ready for a change so they left their jobs, and decided to embark upon their passion of owning their own bookstore. Complete novices to business ownership the Morrow’s had no idea what to expect, but the one thing they committed to right from the beginning was great customer service above all else.

The first store location occupied what was then the old Kimball/Martin Real Estate Building, and is now the Berkshire Bank in Manchester Center. This building housed not only Northshire Bookstore, but also the Morrow’s home.

Once open the Manchester community quickly embraced their new bookstore, making it a popular destination for area book lovers. Just one year later in 1977, the Morrows decided they needed more hands on deck and hired five staff members. The one area of the store that they found to be the most popular was the children’s department. It quickly became obvious that they were way under-inventoried in this area so they maximized every inch of space available to house more children’s merchandise. This, coupled with the fact that they had no space for back stock gradually led to an ever decreasing living space for the Morrow family.

In 1982, the old Coburn House which had been sitting unoccupied for nearly 2 years, went up for auction and Ed and Barbara agreed to buy it. In 1986, Northshire Bookstore reopened in the newly renovated Colburn House space allowing for a more spacious store and living space.

A short number of years after this move, the retail industry began rapidly changing with the explosion of malls across the U.S. as well as the emergence of some major retail box bookstores which all housed cafes. Although the Morrow’s business had changed and grown rapidly over a relatively short period of time they knew based on customer feedback that they either had to continue this growth or risk becoming stagnant. It was also at this time that Chris Morrow had returned home after studying overseas. Having made the decision to eventually take over the family business, Chris and his parents chose, once again, to expand the bookstore.

In 2003 the bookstore more than doubled to 10,000 square feet with a brand new addition that included a proper shipping and receiving department, an entire floor dedicated to children, many unique gifts, clothing, jewelry, spaces carved out specifically for author events and the addition of The Spiral Press Café.

In addition to a great assortment of books and gifts available the Northshire Bookstore also hosts several author events. According to Barbara Morrow; “Our author events have always played an important role in the success of the Northshire, connecting the role of the author to our love of the book. We have been extremely fortunate in being able to bring a wide range of nationally known authors, as well as – just as importantly – Vermont authors to share their work and experience, as writers.  Our very first author event was in the “old” store next to the Factory Point Bank, with beloved author John Gardner. He was incredibly generous in connecting with his audience, and that also made him such a great teacher.  

“Looking back over the years, we have hosted an amazing number of authors – adult authors, children’s authors, bestselling authors, first-time authors, local authors – and we have felt incredibly enriched by these wonderful author events.  Some of our favorite and most successful events in the early days were with Norman Mailer, Vermont Senator George Aiken, Gloria Steinem, Annie Proulx, Pat Conroy – who we spent a day with showing him the beauty of Vermont – and Stephen King, on his cross-country tour for Insomnia.  And there have been hundreds of others. The poetry events with Galway Kinnell, Billy Collins, Donald Hall, and Mary Oliver were some of the most memorable.  Beloved children’s authors such as Tomie dePaola, Barry Moser, and Katherine Paterson made multiple visits to the bookstore.

“Celebrating the Northshire Bookstore’s 40th year, and its wonderful history of books, authors, community, staff, and now the 2nd and even 3rd generation of bookselling, is a thrill and a privilege.  How many pursuits can be viewed as both vocation and avocation, being fed not only by passion, but also contributing to the enrichment of the mind.”

“This business is about community which takes many forms and encompasses many spheres.” Ed Morrow explained. “There is not only the community of the Northshire staff and of other booksellers all over the world, there is the publishing industry community and an extraordinary community of authors–unknown, famous, regional, national, most underpaid, some overpaid–continuing, in the face of staggering odds and ever-changing technologies, to write tens of thousands of books each year. 

“Most importantly, there is the community of readers–our patrons–which gives us our raison d’être. The only requirement for citizenship in this community is a love of books. We have become what we are because of the people who have chosen to make us part of their community over the years, and for that we are very grateful. 

“Since our expansion in 2003, we have truly become a physical community center. We are the meeting place for people coming to town. A bulletin board in our entryway is for posters announcing community events. Community organizations use our conference room, adjacent to our café, free of charge. The room is constantly booked with everyone from the local day care fundraising committee, to public speaking classes, to many writing groups. 

“Our events space is used by community cultural organizations for events of their own–we have had Robert Todd Lincoln’s historic estate Hildene conduct a history series here; the Vermont Beekeepers Association has held their monthly meeting here; the Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning holds classes here. Local theatres hold pre-performance discussions in the Northshire Bookstore. 

“We are particularly pleased that local teens have found the bookstore (and café) an accepting place to gather, whether it is to meet after class, study for tests, do research for a paper, check email, get ideas for the one-act play festival, participate in a poetry slam or simply meet their parents.

“Our events program is a community service in itself. Through it, we offer the community enriching experiences well beyond inspired author appearances. Partnering with community organizations to hold events is an important component of our events programming – for instance, we partnered with the Orton Family Foundation, a land use planning non-profit, to bring former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to the bookstore to talk about land use in the context of the federal government. Additionally, we have been community leaders for decades–that, too, is part of the winning prescription for an independent bookstore, making Northshire Bookstore a cornerstone of the community, for residents and visitors alike.

“It has been a rich and, in many ways, a magical four decades, endeavoring to interlace the world of books into the diurnal activities of our community – a community that has unceasingly encouraged and coached us to reach further and more artfully into the cornucopia of author creativity to inspire, excite, inform, amuse and entertain. Responding to a caring community’s thirst for deeper draughts of the mind and soul connection that is the essence of books, the Northshire took shape into what it is today: the House of Books that Manchester and the Mountain communities built.

“We see this house as built of a very special brick. A brick forged in magical kilns. They are called books. But we mean books in the codex format, ink on paper. This distinction became necessary about half-way through the Northshire’s journey and has even more importance today. For, while the essence of a book is intangible–a captured set of ideas and creativity of an author blending with the creative interpretation inspired in its reader–the means of its transmission is increasingly being recognized as critically important.

“The need to disconnect, to unplug; the need to rechcarge, to reconnect with our human essence; the imperative of balance, of groundedness, of thinking deeply, all speak to the human scale aspect of the book as found in the Northshire. It is my belief that our community instinctively recognizes this and will support the Northshire through another 40 years–which we hope may be curated by our granddaughters.”

Chris Morrow added; “A good bookstore is part of the cultural foundation of its community. Bookstores tend to be owned and staffed by people who care about the quality of their daily lives, about the social setting in which they work, and about how they can have a positive effect on the cultural fabric of their community. Irrepressible, old-dog bookseller David Schwartz said it best. “Bookselling …is a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world.

“Ever since our opening day we have focused on exceeding our customers’ expectations. By creating a unique and inviting space, by filling it with well-chosen titles, and by having excellent booksellers, the right books land in the right set of hands at the right time. All of our efforts revolve around this simple aspiration of creating magic.

So thank you to all the folks in Manchester and the Mountains, to our fellow booksellers, to publishers, to authors and to readers across the globe. Read on…”

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