Alice Hutchinson, a second-generation bookseller (her mother, Nancy Ivison, owned Pymander Bookshop in Westport, Connecticut, for 30 years), opened Byrd’s Books in 2011. The Bethel, Connecticut, general bookstore focuses on home-state authors, poets, publishers, and illustrators and devotes a quarter of its shelf space to kids’ lit. Here we talk with Hutchinson about serving the ranging needs of local readers, especially kids!
How would you describe Byrd’s Books to the uninitiated?
Byrd’s Books is a classic small independent bookstore that reflects the taste of the owner (and the American Booksellers Association)! We opened shortly after our local Borders closed. Riding the wave of community mourning, I opened a brick and mortar in 450 square feet on the second floor of a popular coffee shop. It took me a little over a year to realize I needed to move to larger quarters, so we went from tiny to small. When asked, how do you know what books to buy, my answer is that I buy the shop I want to browse in!
If Byrd’s Books were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Our tenets would include the belief that literacy is vital to a functioning society and books are the glue that holds us together. Community discussions of books are mandatory, and owning and sharing books is the currency of our society. Our icon is the bookmark, because dog-earing a page is a punishable offense. Thus endeth the lesson.
Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
Santa Claus—yes, you heard me. We hired a guy who regularly played Santa. Folks loved him and had great things to say about him. He emailed me the day before the “Storytime With Santa” event to tell me he would be wearing his “inside suit,” hmmm. He shows up in a red polyester business suit with matching red bowler and calls himself Kris Kringle. I died of embarrassment and introduced him to the room full of children and followed with, “I bet you are wondering why Santa is dressed this way?” I made him answer the kids.
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
Byrd’s Books is in the center of our destination downtown, across from the local town green, and is included in a long-range downtown redevelopment plan. Community events, art openings, author talks, and cooperative advertising have all put a focus on keeping our retail vital and interesting. We have a very loyal and dedicated base of friends who are invested in helping the bookstore culture succeed.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
We appear to attract two populations, mostly middle grade—reluctant readers and readers that know what they want and are ready for the next option. The reluctant reader needs a good book without being overwhelmed. The experienced reader is asking for more and more nonfiction or historical fiction.
What are some of the bookstore’s top current handsells?
We love Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young, a great middle-grade book that didn’t get the attention we think it deserved; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders in AUDIO, with that fabulous cast of 166 people!; Press Here by Hervé Tullet, because it turns around any cranky storytime; Morningstar: Growing Up with Books by Ann Hood, which defines a passion for books and meaning; and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson (yes, I am that girl who loves science).
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.