Great Barrington — It is the town’s warm and cozy black hole of no return for booklovers.
And it is for sale.
Eric Wilska started The Bookloft at a time when books could only be read on paper. After 42 years that saw sweeping changes in publishing and bookselling, he and his wife Ev Wilska are selling the business to make room for other pursuits.
Pursuits that, naturally, include books. Reading, writing, and selling them.
In an e-mail to customers, now on The Bookloft’s website, the Wilskas’ explained that with grown, far-flung children and a grandchild coming, there are some things they’d still like to do: “Many life dreams still unrealized (many of them involving the reading, writing, creating and selling of books),” they wrote.
They’re sticking around, however. They live in Old Chatham, New York, where they have a farm on which Eric makes maple syrup, a passion of his. They will continue to run Shaker Mill Books in West Stockbridge, a rare and used book store. “Assuming we find a buyer for the store,” Eric Wilska said.
The store is in the Barrington Plaza on Stockbridge Road. It is bursting with titles and special editions and things you never even knew about. The cookbook section is a knockout. The newer fiction and non-fiction is read by employees (a total of 11) and given little handwritten summaries that really help make the leap into the buying and reading commitment. And the children and young adult section is enchanting.
Many locals have found themselves drooling over the inventory and forgetting time.
“People have screamed at me on the street, nooooo!” Wilska said of reactions to the announcement. “It’s like reading your own obituary. We’ve had hundreds of people come in the last 10 days.” While the season has been hot for sales, he added, many are coming in because of the announcement. But he thinks a new owner can make the business “even better and hipper.”
“It’s been a great run, and my wife and I love it. But I didn’t make maple syrup last year.”
Wilska said business is booming. Sales are up for the fourth year in a row.
The trend back to independent booksellers and actual printed paper, he said, started after the recession. “ebooks have been down considerably two years in a row to the surprise of some publishers. But you still have to be a good manager.”
Wilska said another reason for increasing sales is the realization that trying to save money by shopping at chain stores hurts wallets and a lot more in the long run.
“Chains are not doing so hot,” he said. “The big model is not working so well. But the shop local thing is really starting to resonate. It took 30 years for people to learn how to wear seatbelts, and 40 years to quit smoking. It’s the same with shopping locally.”
It takes time to understand how buying locally matters. “It doesn’t do me any good if Carr Hardware or the Bookloft goes out of business. People have started to see towns hollowed out by big boxes, with the tax rates up and no kids living there.”
The Bookloft is using a 24-year old Amelia Island, Florida firm, The Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates, to vet and educate potential buyers. President Mark Kaufman says he already has one interested buyer registered for their training course.
“There are some serious people out there,” Kaufman said. In the eight days since the Wilskas’ sent their email to their customer list, Kaufman heard from 20 people. “Things are looking good for them,” he added. “Now it’s a question of finding the right fit. They want someone who will honor their legacy and keep this institution alive in the community. That’s more important to them than someone who’s offering $10,000 more than someone else.”
The town, Wilska says, was “supportive over the years,” and he attributes it to comfort and consistency found in long-sustained local businesses.
“When you put your hand out to open the door, you know what you’re going to get. There are so few places like that now. People are hungry for that because we have less of it.”
For inquiries contact: The Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates at (904) 277-2664 or by email at MKaufman@PazBookBiz.com.