, Newburyport, MA

February 25, 2013

Unexpected plot twist

Middle Street Bookstore in search of a home

By Sonya Vartabedian
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Now would be a good time for one of the heroines to spring from the pages that fill Middle Street Bookstore and save the day.

The used bookstore that’s been a fixture downtown for 21 years has learned it will lose its lease come May 1.

Owner Liz Schneider said she got a call early this month from the owner of the building, Richard Simkins, saying he was looking to reclaim the 800-square-foot spot located in the same block as The Grog restaurant, which he also owns.

Schneider said Simkins didn’t divulge his plans for the spot.

“It was totally out of the blue,” said Schneider, explaining the bookstore has had a month-to-month rental arrangement with Simkins for years. “We never even had anything in writing. We just didn’t worry about that kind of thing.”

Simkins is away in Arizona until early March and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Schneider said Simkins did offer her the use of a basement unit in an adjacent building he owns on Liberty Street. But she said the space, which previously housed a nail salon, isn’t ideal for her needs.

She said customers would be hard-pressed to carry heavy books down the seven or eight concrete steps leading to the spot.

“We’d lose all our elderly customers who can’t do stairs,” she said.

She has also been told the unit has been known to experience leaks, which would be problematic for her inventory of books.

Schneider, who took over Middle Street Bookstore 10 years ago, said she and her staff would like to remain in Newburyport, where their base of customers is, but have yet to find an affordable place that would work.

“What we can afford to pay as a used bookstore for rent, I don’t think is very doable in Newburyport,” she said. “We run this place on bare threads. Anyway I can save money I do. ...

“I’m older. I don’t need stuff. I have a house. I just need to pay my bills. This pays my bills. The other two who work for me are retired. We don’t want for much.”

Schneider said she finds it ironic that the bookstore may be losing its home at the same time Newburyport is making a push to have its downtown designated by the state as a cultural district built on its celebration of all facets of the arts.

Being based in Newburyport is a large part of why the used bookstore has been able to weather the digital age, Schneider said. It has won support from locals and visitors alike, who have sought it out and often make a point of returning to both buy and sell books. The store’s previous owner had tried to open an offshoot in Amesbury, but it never caught on, she said.

While Schneider remains hopeful a solution will be found, the uncertainty for the future isn’t sitting well with Middle Street Bookstore’s loyal customer base.

“They’re disappointed,” Schneider said. “The word I most hear is, ‘I’m distraught.’”