, Salem, MA

Local News

March 27, 2014

Last chapter for Derby Books

Iconic Salem store to close in April after 39 years


Word spread quickly on social media.

If there was excitement over the sale, it was tempered by remorse over the loss of the only general bookstore in Salem, a place like none other run by two trusted brothers who, for many customers, are family.

“So many places I love are disappearing,” said Jan Costa, who has been coming to Derby Books almost since the day in 1975 when the Monroes’ parents, Robert and Elizabeth, opened the store.

“It’s what a real, actual bookstore is supposed to be,” said Costa, as she bought two bags full of books. “And they will go out of their way” to place a special order. “When I was in nursing school, they actually got me nursing books ... That was pretty cool.”

Customer service is one of the reasons the store survived so long, according to Ted Monroe. When a customer asked for a book not in the stacks, they would pick it up during their twice-weekly trips to the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton or at another wholesaler.

They also survived, in part, on school book fairs and, in the early days, by selling technical books to high-tech firms along Route 128.

“That was during the burgeoning era of micro-computers,” Monroe said. “This was before the Internet ... There was a real niche to be filled there.”

The Monroes — at one point, three brothers worked the store — stay open six days a week and work long hours. They have been one of the few stores to stay open at night, keeping the lights on until 9 p.m. in a retail downtown that goes to bed early.

Derby Books arrived on the scene when Salem had a smattering of general bookstores and is the last one standing. It survived in the era of Barnes & Noble and Borders. It outlasted Cornerstone Books, which opened in 2005 with a fireplace, cafe and much fanfare. Cornerstone, which closed more than three years ago, hosted a literary festival, author readings and book signings.

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