MANCHESTER, NH – Some grand openings can feel a bit grander than others. It’s all about the anticipation. In that way, Saturday’s official launch of The Bookery felt kind of magical.
Yes, anticipation has been high. The mantra for years coming from officials and citizenry alike has been that Elm Street needs some more retail shops to balance the bounty of eateries.
Well, now we have it. There are books all right — and also a calendar quickly filling with the kind of programming you might hope for from a family-friendly food-centric book-oriented community gathering place.
A huge crowd showed up for the May 19 ribbon cutting at the store, located at 844 Elm St., attended by Mayor Joyce Craig and Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines, set to the soundtrack of the city’s own Ukeladies.
All day the shop had the look and feel of a party, as “the Lizes” — co-owners Liz Cipriano and Liz Hitchcock, were spread fairly thin during Saturday’s event. They floated in opposing orbits around the place, making sure everyone was finding their way around. The two business partners settled in for a long day greeting a continual stream of well-wishers and curiosity seekers who came to eat, drink and buy books.
And there are plenty of books in stock for a wide range of reader interests. But the concept goes beyond books, says Hitchcock.
In between the books and the food, thoughtful whimsy abounds — in the young adult section there are books in flight; a giant tree sculpture grows in the kids section, topped off with twinkle lights and inhabited by woodland creatures; and there is a room with magnetic walls, where words can be slung to make a statement, form a poem, or quote a favorite author.
Hitchcock says she’s been bowled over by the feedback so far.
“It’s been crazy. I knew there was a need in our community, but this is going to be amazing. People are absolutely engaged with the space, and you know, that was part of what I was thinking about when we were designing the place — how can I surprise and delight people whenever they turn around,” Hitchcock says.
Store hours are still under construction, but right now they are planning to be open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Hitchcock would like to consider staying open later Thursdays through Saturdays – it all depends on if the Bookery finds its late crowd — “we’ve got beer and wine,” Hitchcock says, “you know, if someone doesn’t feel like the bar scene, they can come here and read a book.”
Hitchcock says business over the past few weeks during their soft opening was fairly steady up until 8 p.m. before dropping off.
“That’s why we have to make a business case for staying open later,” Hitchcock says.
Samiratu Karim and Robert Harmon are likely late-night candidates. They’ve already been to the Bookery several times during the soft-opening, and on Saturday they spent a good deal of time at a table for two, creating a word puzzle from the house-made vegetable alphabet soup.
“We love it here,” says Karim, contemplating the noodle-shaped letters on her plate while Harmon occasionally nibbled on “The Great Santini,” by Pat Conroy, when the two weren’t chatting.
There will also be music on Thursday nights — the Ukeladies are going to be monthly regulars, and Alli Beaudry is booked for May 24, to kick-off Music Making Thursdays.
Another big draw should be the cafe under the direction of chef Ellen Duffy, who has created a menu that is a healthy mix of nutritious and delicious — mostly soups, sandwiches and shareables for now, but she says it will be expanding, with all the culinary twists and turns of a food adventure novel.
Current crowd-pleasers include dippable donuts, a PB & J bar, as well as locally-sourced coffees and teas (see menu below.)
For the most part, people either popped in on Saturday to wish the Lizes well, or to linger over the books.
Gertrude Theriault did a little bit of both.
“I love having a bookstore downtown, and this is not overwhelming. You know, sometimes when you go to the big book stores there are too many books. Oh, and look — someone is already thinking for me,” says Theriault, a world traveler who points toward a Lonely Planet book that’s caught her attention. “‘Where to Go When’ — that’s just what I need.”
Theriault says she sees The Bookery as more than a retail store.
“It will be a community gathering place, and also it will be great for lunchtime, because you don’t want to have to deal with traffic on South Willow Street — I always try to avoid it when I know it’s a busy time of day,” says Theriault. She had planned her first visit to the Bookery around a Saturday night dinner date.
“We had a birthday party at a downtown restaurant, and then we came over here to check it out,” she says. “There’s a lot of great stuff here, especially for the kids. I’ll definitely be back.”
On the web: The Bookery.