ORLEANS — This is a tale of three Orleans bookstores.
A new independent bookstore will open later this month, while a second will close and a third has already closed.
Sea Howl Bookshop is taking over the 600-square-foot space occupied until earlier this year by the now-shuttered Main Street Books at 46 Main St. Booksmith/Musicsmith, which has been in operation since the late 1970s, will close its doors on Aug. 31. Booksmith/Musicsmith is in Orleans Marketplace at 136 Route 6A.
It’s an iffy proposition to open a new business during a coronavirus pandemic.
“We went into this whole thing knowing the risk of another shutdown,” Jonathan Nedeau said during a telephone interview last week. Nedeau, 42, is opening Sea Howl with his wife Kazmira, 35. But “technology is in place.” The store’s website will also serve as an e-store — you can see what’s in the store and “click and reserve” to pick up purchases curbside.
And ironically it is the pandemic that gave the Nedeaus, who live in Orleans, the time and will to found the business.
“We’re both victims of COVID-related layoffs,” Nedeau says. The couple moved to Orleans in 2015. For the past five years, Jonathan commuted to work in Boston while Kazmira was employed in marketing and communications for Outer Cape Health Services. When the couple learned that the space for Main Street Books was vacant, they knew they wanted to fulfill a dream by opening a bookstore. (In 2004 Main Street Books replaced Compass Rose Books in a portion of the building owned by Don Krohn and Janis Brennan, who own and run Orleans Whole Food Store. Krohn and Brennan also owned Main Street Books.)
“We both really love books,” Nedeau says. “Our house is filled with books.”
Nedeau, who was once a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, plans to stock accessible books published by university presses — books written “for a general audience with less jargon. I spent the past 20 years buying those books myself.” He also wants to expand Sea Howl’s poetry section by “going beyond the obvious authors.” In fact, the bookstore takes its name from one of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” poems.
Yet Sea Howl will remain a “general” bookstore with loads of fiction, including 19th century classic authors such as Henry James. Expanded non-fiction sections will include gardening, farm-steading, homesteading, and the environment. While 90 to 95 percent of the store will be stocked with new books, 5 to 10 percent will be used books.
Nedeau praises Main Street books, calling it a “well-curated bookshop where anyone could always find something that interested them.” Patrons of that store will be happy to know that Donna Korn, who worked at Main Street Books for 15 years, will be back working in Sea Howl.
These days Nedeau is putting the million and one finishing touches on the business — the lithocut logo by an artist in England must be integrated with the store’s name; the shelves need to be filled with books; the checkout counter must be installed.
“In the months we’ve had this lease, among locals, people are clamoring to have their bookstore back,” Nedeau says. “The pressure is building on us.” He believes that residents will make a concerted effort to support a local business and avoid online sellers.
To reach Sea Howl books phone 508-255-3343, email hello@SeaHowlBookshop.com or visit www.SeaHowlBookshop.com.
The story is very different less than half a mile away at Booksmith/Musicsmith where Matt and Cherry Reid, both 61, are running discount sales to clear out the store’s inventory after a good 25 years running the store.
When asked why the business, long known for its great customer service, is closing, Matt Reid attributes it to one thing: Amazon.com. “We pretty much put all the blame on that,” he says. “At the same point they go up, we go down.” Over the course of 18 years, between 75 and 80 percent of the business evaporated. “We made literally zero since February,” he adds. “It’s not a doable business any longer.”
Even without the pandemic shutdown complicating matters, “we were already at the point that it was all over.” Reid calls the pandemic “the last nail in the coffin.”
One of the ongoing costs the Reids face is rent. Five years ago, the store was located in bustling Skaket Corners where it was next door to Shaw’s, in a spot now inhabited by a liquor store. But when rent there rose to a reported $6,000 a month, the business moved to Orleans Marketplace, where it is three doors down from Staples, tucked between Guapo’s Tortilla Shack and Fancy Nails.
On Aug. 11 Reid organized a GoFundMe page to raise $50,000 to avoid bankruptcy, although the store cannot be saved. “We are just trying to save our own personal family financial situation from ruin,” Reid wrote on the page. As of Aug. 17, the effort had raised $830.
New books, DVDs and CDs are now marked down 50 percent. Used books are 20 percent off. The store is also giving away its fixtures that include spinning racks and display shelves — “all kinds of things a retailer might like.”
And what’s next for the Reids? “We’re not in a position to say yet,” Reid says. “One window closed, another will open.”