There Is a Bookstore in Nantucket...

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Nantucket Bookworks occupies a century-old, 1,500 square-foot building in the picturesque downtown shopping district of Massachusetts' 50-square-mile Nantucket Island. Founded in 1972, the store was purchased in 2000 by Wendy Hudson, a five-year employee of the general bookstore.

Hudson did not grow up on the island, but she frequently visited her grandparents on Cape Cod and would sail over to Nantucket. The year-round island population numbers about 10,000, swelling to over five times that during the summer tourist season. Some estimates put the annual number of tourist visits at 200,000.

"August is our December," Hudson told BTW. "Christmas is more like our June. It's busier than the rest of the winter, but nowhere near as busy as the summer months." Hudson spoke to BTW by cell phone while Christmas shopping on the mainland, a 30-mile plane, or ferry, ride from Nantucket.

Although many of Nantucket's shops cater to the up-market tourist trade, Hudson sees Bookworks as an integral part of the local community. "We are open everyday, year round [with a few exceptions]," she said. "We have long hours -- from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. seven days a week, from May until Christmas. Then we close at 8:00 p.m. during the week, but always stay open until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It's a lot," she acknowledged, "But a bookstore can only be the heart of a community if it stays open."

Wendy Hudson

Hudson told BTW that she would like to expand Bookworks' customer base to include tourists who may not venture far from their resorts. She sees potential in author appearances for which the store could partner with hotels, golf resorts, and local media. "Publishers might be more eager to send authors if we could add value to the visit with a package," she said. For example, she mentioned an appearance by J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar (Hyperion), that Bookworks scheduled at a restaurant in a golf resort. The successful event included dinner and an autographed book.

The store does not have the room for large events, but Hudson sometimes hosts local authors with regional titles. "Our regional/Nantucket section is outstanding," Hudson noted. "And every year there seem to be four or five new books out. We have some in-store signings with the local authors.

"Sidelines are very big," added Hudson. "About 30 percent of our business is non-books. We carry toys, cards, folk art items -- anything that strikes me. Ornaments are popular this time of year." To maintain a distinctive inventory, she noted, the store doesn't carry "anything that's mass market."

Hudson recalled the old, pre-Internet days, when Nantucket felt quite cut off from the mainland. With online shopping and services, people now have many options, and Hudson uses the store's website to maintain and build connections. "Our site is the number-one place to look up books for people," she offered. "I can immediately show customers the books' image, and people can search the site on their own to find out about any events. We also have found that communicating with customers through Constant Contact is absolutely great."

"When we first got our Book Sense gift cards," Hudson recalled, "All the other store owners were very impressed. [The cards] have been fantastic. We sell and redeem lots of them."

In 1995, Hudson and her husband, Randy Hudson, started producing craft ales in an operation named Cisco Brewery, for nearby Cisco Beach. "For a while we were the country's only outdoor brewery. I'd hesitate to call us micro-brewers, we were more like nano-brewers," she explained with a laugh. The business has grown, however, and now includes a partnership with Nantucket Vineyards, whose grapes actually come from off island, and with Triple 8 Distillery, which produces hard liquor including flavored vodkas and "notch" -- not Scotch, but Scotch-style whiskey. Randy handles the brewery operation, but Wendy has a soft spot for the product.

"I'd really like to combine the beer business with the books," she said. "We don't have room in the store to sell it, but I've been thinking about some sort of beer and book festival." Hudson continued, "I love books, but I love beer as well. I can drink a beer a day, but a book a day?" --Nomi Schwartz