Keeping an Open Door for 35 Years

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady, New York, which offers an eclectic selection of books and gifts, has been serving a diverse community since 1971. The 3,000-square-foot store, owned by Janet and John Hutchison, is located on a pedestrian plaza in the downtown area and includes a gift gallery filled with a wide range of jewelry, pottery, glass, and fashion accessories.

Janet Hutchison began working for the store's original owner, Betty Fleming, in 1983, and purchased the store with her husband, John, in 1992. The store, originally only 500-square-feet and offering children's books, has been enlarged several times but has never changed locations.

Janet Hutchison with Mayor Brian Stratton of Schenectady, New York.

Janet, a children's librarian by training, is the in-store bookselling half of the couple; John is the "computer expert, bookkeeper, and accountant." Hutchison told BTW that, although Open Door is a general bookstore, "it will always have a strong children's collection," and, although staff is always ready to offer recommendations, the store recognizes "the sanctity of browsing."

Schenectady, 15 miles from New York State's capital, Albany, has endured many plant closings, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and population declines, over the past 50 years. But Hutchison, active in several local business development groups, sees many reasons for optimism.

"Many businesses and individuals are working hard at improving the business environment here. We are one block from State Street, our 'Main Street,' and Proctor's Theatre, a 1920s vaudeville theater with a 2,700 seating capacity that has been completely refurbished," she explained. "It has a full schedule with Broadway shows, concerts, children's events, and movies. Phantom [of the Opera] ran for a month, it was fantastic. [Proctor's] has been a big boon for the downtown. The Downtown Schenectady Development Corporation helped to get funding for a lot of the improvements.... Restaurants, a multiplex movie theater, and a hotel are all in the works. Like many downtowns, we are using the arts to revitalize the area, it's exciting."

Hutchison has seen many improvements on Jay Street, the small side street off State Street, which is home to Open Door. "Our street has been redone with very attractive plantings and trees, increased security, and things are generally neatened up," she said. "It has an effect on businesses considering opening in the area. We have a number of small independent gift stores, a pottery shop, a natural food store, and several restaurants. It all fits in to the Book Sense idea -- local businesses working together."

Open Door has been active in the Book Sense program "since it began," Hutchison told BTW. "It's a great program and our customers have responded to it very well. People look for the displays and ask for the handouts every month. The gift card program is growing. We have traffic on our site. Customers look up information about events. [The website is] a marketing tool, and you absolutely have to have one. People browse through the titles [online] and peruse the Book Sense lists, get ideas, and call us."

For Open Door's 35th anniversary, celebrated in May, the Hutchisons hosted a large reception at the store for local authors, town notables, staff, and customers. "Over 20 authors attended," said Hutchison, "and we raised [through a small entrance donation] over $1,000 for Literacy Volunteers." --Nomi Schwartz