Pop-up bookstore hopes to stay in Amesbury

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoJohn Hugo has opened a pop-up shop, Amesbury Books, at 41 Main St. in Amesbury.

AMESBURY — The arrival of a pop-up bookstore in downtown was met with instant approval last week. But it is up to local book lovers whether Amesbury Books becomes a permanent storefront or not.

John Hugo, the owner of Hugo BookStores, also owns bookstores in Beverly, Marblehead and Andover along with The Book Rack in Newburyport. Hugo said he is always in the market for a new shop.

When he saw that Toad Hall Bookstore had closed in Rockport last year, Hugo jumped at the chance to open a pop-up shop there.

“I call it the ‘Field of Dreams’ book shop. If you build it, will they buy?” Hugo said. “We were up in Rockport for six weeks and did all right. We made a little money but we knew right away there was no way you could go for a 12-month lease there. There just wasn’t enough business for the population.”

Although Hugo said he had fun in Rockport, he decided not to stay. Since he had the pop-up shop’s fixtures already sitting in storage, Hugo and his wife, Catalina Cuervo, jumped at the chance to try a temporary store again when he saw an opportunity in Amesbury at 41 Main St.

“I was looking at Ipswich and Concord and Amesbury, and the landlords here said they were interested,” Hugo said. “A lot of guys aren’t willing to try this.”

Hugo and Cuervo began loading their inventory into Amesbury Books about two weeks ago and opened the day before Thanksgiving, offering best-sellers in fiction, nonfiction and cookbooks as well as an extensive catalog to browse.

“Wednesday and Friday were OK,” Hugo said. “We did get some business then but we had a very, very good Small Business Saturday. But it was slow Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. You really have to check back at the end.”

Downtown resident Carol Bartlett said she was thinking of shopping in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, last weekend but was happy she stayed closer to home on Small Business Saturday.

“I saw the store and decided to check it out,” she said. “They had everything I really like. I got a mug and I got a book. There were so many people there, they had to wait outside. I was very impressed.”

Hugo, a Newburyport resident, took over Hugo BookStores from his late father during the company’s 50th anniversary three years ago.

“My dad would always say, ‘You have it tough because, all I had to do was open the store, provide great books and great customer service,’” said Hugo, 39. “Now, you have to compete against pricing and Amazon and next-day delivery.”

Online book sales have taken over half of his business, Hugo said.

“No one thought about doing a pop-up shop 10 years ago because they didn’t have to,” he said. “Now, you do because people are buying online all of the time. You have to add other things to make your business succeed. Pop-ups, off-site book fairs, you just have to do more. Who knows how long we will be around but we are still making money.”

While he and his wife would like to stay in Amesbury, Hugo said they will need to settle their own financial books at the end of the year before making any decisions.

“There’s a lot of synergy between here and (Newburyport). I have already had people who came in who had picked up coupons at The Book Rack and wanted to check us out,” Hugo said. “I want to make sure I can make a go of it for a year or two before I sign on. But if people want this, they have to come in to buy.”

Bartlett said she would “absolutely” shop at Amesbury Books if it stayed on Main Street year-round.

“People are really excited about this,” she said.

For more on Hugo BookStores, see www.hugobookstores.com.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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