House of Books Moves Home Again
During the height of COVID independent bookstores became a mainstay, taking phone orders, keeping up with the newest titles, arranging for pickups and generally keeping their customers well read and occupied.
Sadly many bookshops are no more but in Litchfield County we are fortunate to have the House of Books in Kent. In temporary quarters for many months, it is now back in its original space, which has been renovated into an emporium for all things literary. It is now open for business in the space it had occupied since 1976.
House of Books began as an independent bookstore operating out of an old house on Route 7 in North Kent before moving to its current location on Main Street in a building dating back to the early 1800s.
Prior to its present incarnation the bookstore had three previous owners, the most recent being Robin Dill-Herde who took over the business in 2013 and decided to sell in 2019. She had worked as a book-buyer and manager for 10 years prior to purchasing the business.
“There were a few potential buyers,” says Ben Rybeck, general manager of the shop, “but there was a determination that it be part of the community and to make sure that it remained a bookstore.”
A savior entered in the form of Kent Center, LLC, which was responsible for the restoration and renovation of the Kent Barns complex. It already owned the building housing the shop and quickly purchased the business.
“We facilitated the sale and transition because supporting a thriving, serious independent bookstore in Kent has always been our objective,” says Hiram Williams, managing partner of Kent Center, LLC.
Once the purchase was complete, renovation plans were put in place including replicating the 90-year old metal roof, restoring the original windows, stabilizing the foundation, and rewiring the building. Now the transformation is complete. While the original bones of the building remain, it has a whole new look.
The store’s temporary space housed 4,000 books and 7,000 units; the volume has been expanded to 10,000 units. It boasts 3,000-square-feet of selling space in addition to various office and storage areas. The new design was a collaboration between Yvette Adams Interiors and Chris Lee of Jelutong Design Inc. There is room for more gifts, games, cards and definitely more books.
The first vision upon entering, holding center stage in the light-filled space, is the children’s house. The space will be used for children’s events and as a place for young readers to sit and enjoy the treasures that await them between the covers of a book.
“The minute you enter you are experiencing the frame and the impression it makes,” explains Katharine Otis, marketing and events manager. “It’s bright and colorful and whimsical and it creates that sense of magic when you walk into a bookstore, regardless of age. Adults are thrilled with it as well. It has a way about it that makes you feel like a kid again.”
Among other treats is a pen wall where every imaginable writing instrument in every imaginable color is displayed. The double shelf of Staff Picks is easy to maneuver and gives the booklover a chance to see what the workforce is reading and recommending. But it is so much more than that.
“I think that when I walk into a bookstore the transformative thing comes from feeling you’re seeing on display the personality of the people who run the store,” says Rybeck.
“Good bookstores have figured out that it is not just a space for selling books. When you enter you want to feel a connection to books and to the people who have chosen what books are on the shelf and on display.
“There are infinite possibilities for what to stock in a bookstore,” he continued. “There are millions of titles you can have. The 10,000 that we have picked say a lot about the personality and the staff and the community as well. I don’t want to see a stack of the bestsellers in front of me. I want to see something very specific and specially chosen.”
“The core of the store is a reflection of the town,” Otis observed. “We have a mix of people who come to the store, people who have lived here their whole lives, people who are weekenders and new to this area and people who are simply passing through and stop to explore. Because the customer base is so eclectic the bookstore offers that little bit of surprise around the corner. We have customers who come in three times a week and they should always feel as if they will see something new and different.
“We are all readers and passionate about books that we read,” he concluded. “The secret is that the staff is the product, not the books. You can get books anywhere but you can’t get the staff and what they have read and their knowledge. People like to walk in and connect with our booksellers. I am a bookseller at heart and when somebody takes home a book I put into their hands it is so gratifying.”
House of Books had its official grand opening on November 27th, which was celebrated as Small Business Saturday. Among its special events was a guest appearance of local resident Jerry Saltz, senior art critic and columnist for New York magazine and author of How to Be an Artist. Saltz, a popular addition to the event, played bookseller for the afternoon. Sarah Marshall, director of the Kent Memorial Library paid a visit and on Sunday there was a brunch with authors Fiona Davis and Amy Poeppel whose latest novel is set in Kent.
House of Books continues its book club on the third Wednesday of the month and its Saturday Story Time for Kids. And with Rybeck and Otis at the helm there will be many new innovations at the old/new House of Books.