BEVERLY — When news spread that the longtime owners of the Book Shop of Beverly Farms were looking to retire, some customers feared another story of the demise of an independent bookstore. Fortunately for local book lovers, the plot was not that predictable.
Co-owners Pamela Price and Lee Simonds Brown have sold to new owners who plan to keep the book shop up and running. The shop will be closed next week during the transition and is scheduled to re-open under Hannah Harlow and her brother Sam Pfeifle on Feb. 3.
"I know Hannah and Sam are going to get a warm welcome because people have been so concerned and are now so relieved that these folks are going to be carrying on," Price said.
The Book Shop at Beverly Farms was founded in 1968 by Nancy Hewson, Mary Perkins and Mimi Adams. Price and Lee Simonds Brown, who had worked at the shop for a decade, bought the business in 1997.
The shop is located at 40 West St. in Beverly Farms, on the corner across from the train station in a two-story building that once housed a barber shop. Price recalled a winter day when the shop hosted Chris Van Allsburg, the author of "The Polar Express." As children lined up outside waiting to get in, a train pulled into the station across the street in a flurry of snow.
"It was perfect," she said.
The shop was also known for its association with John Updike, the famed author who lived on Hale Street within walking distance. Updike was a regular customer for 25 years and would do book-signings there. When Price and Brown attended a meeting of the American Booksellers Association in Washington, D.C., to hear him speak, Updike told the audience that "the book shop in my little town lights up not only my life but the entire street," according to Price.
"We were just bursting," she said.
Price said business has remained steady over the years despite the incursion of online, chain-store and e-book sales. The fact that a small bookstore is surviving is not unusual, according to the New England Independent Booksellers Association. The group says many stores are reporting double-digit growth and opening second locations.
"The narrative that bookstores are closing has proven false as independent bookstores continue to support local schools, libraries, church and civic organizations in meaningful ways," the association said on its website.
Price credited the shop's relationship with local schools, to whom its sells many of its books, with helping business remain steady. She said small bookstores can't compete with the volume of the big-box stores, so the Book Shop operates on the philosophy that it will have the best books in every subject.
"The big stores put out a drag net and bring in everything in large quantities," she said. "We can't do it that way. We try to find the bests of the bests in every category. It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge if you love books."
Caroline Mason said she has been a regular customer at The Book Shop of Beverly Farms since she moved to Beverly five years ago. She called the shop a "charming, warm, welcoming place."
"I think it's the epitome of the locally owned specialty shop that's run by experts in their field," Mason said. "They're dying out. It's staffed by passionate, discerning readers. They're true bibliophiles who were never at a loss for a terrific recommendation."
Price said she and Brown are excited to turn over the business to Harlow and Pfeifle. Harlow, 41, has worked in publishing for her entire career, mostly recently as executive director of marketing of general interest books at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
"She's worked with great authors," Price said. "You need someone discerning to choose the books months before they're published, when there are no reviews. That's when you make your buying decisions. I know that she has the tools for that."
Harlow, who lives in Ipswich with her husband and two children, said owning a bookstore has been a "longtime dream." When she saw that the Book Shop of Beverly Farms was for sale, she said, "It felt too good to be true."
"It has a built-in history, such a great customer base, and I love the location," she said. "It had so much going for it, it was kind of hard to pass up. I'm really excited, and I'm also incredibly nervous. It's a big change and there's a lot of risk involved."
Harlow and Pfeifle plan to install a new digital point-of-sale and inventory system that will allow people to order books online and then pick them up at the store. They also plan to redesign the website and start a frequent buyers program
After working with independent book stores for years in her publishing career, Harlow said she is excited to join their ranks.
"They've really weathered the storm and they've shown a lot of resiliency," she said. "It makes me feel proud to be a book-seller."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or email@example.com.