Today, Hartford Books Examiner profiles the Monte Cristo Bookshop.
Located in the historic waterfront district of downtown New London, the Monte Cristo Bookshop first opened its doors on December 12, 2012. Co-owned by Gina and Christopher Jones, the store sells new and used books of all genres and for all ages. The 2500 square foot space occupies what was once the Monte Cristo Garage, funded by actor James O’Neill, who portrayed the Count of Monte Cristo more than 6,000 times in theaters around the globe. (He also fathered New London’s most famous resident, writer Eugene O’Neill.) These local literary roots served as the inspiration for the store’s name.
The Monte Cristo Bookshop shares a private (free!) parking lot with the coffee shop next door; the store is ground level with no steps, and the aisles are wheelchair and stroller accessible. Also child friendly, there is an area with a large rug and some distractions to occupy the kids while adults browse. Pricing is similar to, if not cheaper than, chain stores, and ordering is done in-store daily so that the stock can be tailored to what customers are actually reading. Independently owned and operated, the Monte Cristo Bookshop supports the community by keeping business local, cultivating up-and-coming talent, and bringing readers and writers together.
Now, co-owner Christopher Jones takes readers inside the Monte Cristo Bookshop…
1) What can you tell us about the origins of the Monte Cristo Bookshop? What is your philosophy as a bookseller?
We are both passionate readers and enjoy creativity. The store idea was birthed during a job search. We thought why don't we own our own place?
Our philosophy is pretty simple. We are the conduit between the culture of literature and our customers. There's a giant publishing industry full of energized creative types that skips over New London. Our city is full of musicians and artists, more so than any other city in CT. 14 art galleries is no laughing matter. There's always a band playing somewhere. The theater groups in town have a strong presence. Journalism is another. But this cultural center has been missing one key element. We see ourselves as the missing piece to the puzzle. Our philosophy is to fill that role with the same energy and intensity that the rest of creative New London do in their work.
2) What products and/or services do you see as being unique to your store? Are there any upcoming events you’d like readers to know about?
We are the only full service bookshop in the city. We are a hybrid store selling 75% new and 25% used. Our used selection is carefully curated to only include back titles by well known authors or award winning and cult-following type titles.
Our large store space directly in the population center of the area and proximity to several world class performance venues means we can accommodate a wide variety of events. The city we are in has a very distinct cultural feel to it. Our ownership has years of experience marketing and live event production in other industries. Mix these ingredients and you have the potential for unique events no other bookstore could provide. Rest assured we are just getting started booking.
One of our weekly events starting in February consists of 1130am children’s readings. We are having community members that children recognize I.e. policeman, fireman, etc. come do readings in uniform. It's a very simple thing to put together and we expect it to be a hit.
3) In your opinion, what is the role of the bookstore in the community at large? What can book seller and book buyer do to establish a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship?
Bookstores have to customize and adapt to current lifestyle trends or they will fail. The beauty of what we do is the more we listen to customers and pay attention to the industry the better off we all are. A bookseller must engage customers. In our case, our story of how we came to be was followed by numerous people. Once we opened we continued to share random details and updates on our businesses progress. As mundane as deciding where to put a poster on the wall seems, we can ask our social media following, and we get dozens of answers. People want to feel that sense of ownership. As a bookseller if you aren't getting that love from your community perhaps a crash course in social media would be time well spent.
4) How has the store adapted to the current economic climate? What should readers consider when deciding whether or not to patronize their local independent bookstore?
We had to consider our local market and the area competition first. We didn't come into this during a good economic period. Since we are doing well, we are optimistic for the future. Economics or not, we cannot stress the power of free social media. If we used the same marketing budget as a bookstore would in the 90's, we would be in dire financial circumstances. Free advertising is here and during this downturn it's a life preserver for many that have figured it out. If business picks up during a shift towards more jobs and consumer spending there is little we would change in our marketing plan. We pray for recovery but at the same time feel we can withstand whatever the market throws at us because we are doing well in a downtime.
Readers should consider that the books sold at indie stores are sold at very similar prices as big box stores. Amazon is the big box of the internet. They have preyed on little bookstores and even take losses selling individual books. You do not pay much more to buy from a local. The advantages to buying local are numerous. You help the store curate its selection to your particular tastes therefore over time giving local flavor. Local businesses tend to use existing infrastructure instead of building another strip mall. Local businesses donate to local causes and charities at a much higher rate; baseball teams, high school yearbooks, nonprofit groups, social programs, scholarships etc. Local businesses pay workers better and have a lower turnover rate in their employee ranks. Local businesses hire local contractors, electricians, carpenters, and more. You buy where you feel good to buy. Your spending is your vote as far as businesses you enjoy in your community.
5) What do you see as being the current trends in reading? Do you have any personal recommendations that you’d like to make?
In recent years the industry has seen an explosion in the young adult genre. Fueled by wizards and vampires, this once obscure genre is now the hot ticket. It is no secret that the prose is a high school English level, and the stories tend to follow teenage characters...yet the most voracious readers of the genre are adults! I was told there is an addictive quality to reading the books since you can zip right to the end and pickup another for relatively cheap. ($12-$17)
My recommendations as a reader would be crime thrillers. I love everything put out by SoHo Press. I grew up reading Koontz and Coben so you can't go wrong there. Some favorite current authors are Linwood Barclay and Jason Starr. If you want to try a neo-noir style Wallace Stroby nails it. Owen Laukkeman is one to look out for as well.
The best crime book I read in 2012 was The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro. It is not as violent nor suspenseful as my usual fare. I find the main character as a struggling artist is instantly identifiable. The mystery has an historical value to it that keeps you guessing until the last page.
6) What is your future vision for your store?
An energized creative place to grab a book. Our biggest step left to take is to have an event calendar to be the envy of other booksellers. The inventory level should be double by this time next year. Also, we expect to hire our first handful of employees quite soon. Truthfully we have fulfilled most of our vision that we started planning a year before opening. We are about 90% accomplished in our opening goals. Coming at it from a perfectionist standpoint, when our customers habits change so will we. We are at the mercy of the two forces we work so hard to properly represent. We plan to shift with both industry trends and local tastes; I am sure we will always be chasing to get it just right.
Location: 13 Washington Street, New London, CT
Winter store hours: 12-6pm, Sunday, 10am-6pm, Mon-Thurs, 10am-8pm Friday & Saturday
Regular store hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm, Sun, 1-8pm
Web site: www.montecristobookshop.com
With thanks to Christopher Jones for generously sharing his time and thoughts.