Clinton Book Shop Owner Continues Tradition of Strong Community Connection

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Clinton Book Shop, a 2,300-square-foot store located on Main Street in the Victorian-era town of Clinton, New Jersey, proudly proclaims its community roots. Harvey Finkel, the store's owner for the past three years, reminds customers of the bookstore's more than quarter-century of service to the community by adding a tagline to all correspondence: "Thank you for your patronage of the Clinton Book Shop, your locally owned and operated independent choice for reading for over 28 years."

Finkel, who bought Clinton Bookshop from two sisters who had owned it for 25 years, told BTW that he wants to continue to expand the store's position as an important component of a thriving business community. He is vice president of the Clinton Guild, an organization of local businesspeople that develops cross-promotions and special events, ranging from a Shakespeare Festival and Dickens Days to holiday celebrations, including a Candlelight Night, complete with horse-drawn carriages and late night shopping.

After 17 years in the corporate world, Finkel decided to start his own business and immediately considered becoming a bookseller. However, rather than jumping into the business headfirst, he told BTW that he joined the American Booksellers Association as a provisional member, attended BookExpo America, and participated in a workshop for prospective booksellers offered by Paz & Associates. By then Finkel was convinced that bookselling was right for him, and he soon learned that the bookstore owners in his hometown were ready to sell. Within six months, he owned Clinton Book Shop.

When Finkel bought the store, he left much of the space intact but tweaked the categories and physical placement of the books. Responding to customer requests and his own instincts, he added more tables in front for recommended books, including one for Book Sense Reading Group Picks, a very popular category. Finkel expanded the children's section and changed the traffic pattern so that those looking for the young adult section no longer had to pass through the children's section. He added CDs, old time movies on DVD, and a number of fair trade items as sidelines. The fair trade gift items, including pottery, glass, and jewelry, are considered socially responsible as they are imported through special agreements with low-income artisans in developing countries.

"We want to encourage shopping locally whenever possible," Finkel said. "We like to partner with other businesses. At one of our recent Girls Night Out events, we had five romance authors, including [local favorite] Maryann McFadden. Over 50 women showed up. I provided the food, and a local women's clothing store had a fashion show."

Owner Harvey Finkel (right) with Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, author of Constitutional Chaos.

Clinton is a small community of 2,500, about 45 minutes west of New York City, but it has a distinctive personality and strong hometown loyalty, according to Finkel. "People trust us [for book recommendations]. They often kind of know what they want, but are drawn to our staff recommendations and Book Sense Picks," he explained. "We use the Book Sense gift cards, and they have been excellent. People really love those little cards -- most of them come back to us, but it puts us on par with the chain bookstores. Customers also love the website -- I often get comments about it. It's great for publicizing events and updates."

Finkel also has a unique marketing advantage: the recommendations of his 82-year-old mother, Evelyn. "She has read so much, and I always trust her opinions about books," he said. "Her recommendations are on our website. When Maryann McFadden came out with her latest book, she said she was waiting to hear comments from only two people before she could relax -- Oprah and my mom." --Nomi Schwartz