Once upon a time, nearly every town on the South Shore had a local bookshop. Unfortunately, during the last decade, the rise of Amazon and digital e-readers took a toll on small booksellers across the country, resulting in the closure of big box retailers like Borders as well as countless local favorites. Here on the South Shore, Scituate lost Front Street Book Shop in 2014, after 55 years in business. Duxbury’s Westwinds Bookshop, known as “the South Shore’s Oldest Independent Bookstore” for 74 years, closed its doors in 2019, as did the owners of Windemere Gift & Book Shoppe in Plymouth. However, the story of independent bookstores on the South Shore is actually one of survival.
Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset and Storybook Cove in Hanover are each celebrating more than 30 years in business. In addition, two new bookstores opened in Plymouth in just the past two years: Books & Sundry and Borgin’s Books. Most recently, Booked. put down roots in Duxbury. These shops are part of a national trend of brick-and-mortar bookstores making an unexpected comeback around the country. While all of these bookstores have their own distinctive personalities and styles, they share a similar mission: to nurture avid readers, encourage casual browsers, and ultimately fulfill an all-important and integral role within their communities.
A new chapter for independent bookshops on the South Shore.
By Jennifer H. McInerney
Photography by Jack Foley
Situated on Water Street in Plymouth Harbor, a stone’s throw from Plymouth Rock, Books & Sundry has become a new destination for book lovers and tourists alike. Since opening her shop in August 2021, owner Glenda Richards has welcomed thousands of shoppers to her contemporary, spacious storefront. Her curated collection is arranged in a minimalistic style and features a blend of new releases, literary fiction, local history, memoirs, food and entertaining, mystery and suspense, graphic novels, children’s titles, and more. Visitors can also peruse an assortment of humorous greeting cards and gifts, from candles and puzzles to mugs and inspirational journals.
“I got really lucky with this location,” says Richards. “I always thought Plymouth would be a great place to open a bookstore, but my friends thought I was just dreaming.”
Originally from Texas, Richards moved to Plymouth more than 20 years ago to raise a family while pursuing her career in the financial services industry. Over the years, she continued to entertain her long-held dream of opening a local bookshop—even with the rise of Amazon, the advent of e-readers, and the continuing closure of bookstores nationwide.
Yes, Richards has seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Meg Ryan as a struggling bookseller. “And I know how it ends,” she says with a laugh. “But this was something I felt I had to do.” The onset of the pandemic promptly put her dream into perspective. “I figured the time was now. If it didn’t work out, the banks would still be there for me to go back to.”
Similarly, the pandemic “pause” provided Plymouth resident Katherine Crowley with the opportunity to open the bookstore she’d been envisioning for years: Borgin’s Books. Occupying an historic building on North Street and named for Crowley’s cat, Borgin’s is more than a pet project for this full-time veterinarian.
“My other job is stressful,” says Crowley, who works in Marion during the week and opens her bookstore’s doors only on the weekends. “This is my little escape.” Her cozy storefront dates back to the 1700s and features custom floor-to-ceiling shelving built by local carpenter and author David King, who wrote the children’s book, “The Raft,” which is sold in the shop. The décor draws inspiration from two of Crowley’s favorite children’s adventures, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Harry Potter.”
The inventory at Borgin’s intentionally skews away from the mainstream. “We have a little bit of everything, from gardening and children’s books to local history, but I try to offer titles people won’t typically find elsewhere,” says Crowley.
The shelves at Borgin’s are artfully filled with unique and illustrated editions of time-honored classics, including “Black Beauty,” “Around the World in Eighty Days,” “Great Expectations,” The Jungle Book,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Anne of Green Gables” and, of course, “Alice in Wonderland.” There is an entire section dedicated to the works of Edgar Allen Poe and another to the Harry Potter series.
Epic Tales of Perseverance
Perhaps the two most storied independent bookstores on the South Shore are Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset and Storybook Cove in Hanover. Buttonwood Books and Toys has been “Rooted in the Community since 1988,” sticking to its signature selling points for 35 years. “Believe it or not, selling books and toys together was a new business model at that time,” recalls owner Kathy Detwiler, who cofounded the business with her mother-in-law, Betsey Detwiler, and assumed ownership of the store in 2014, when Betsey retired.
While the books-and-toys pairing has proved to be a winning combination, Detwiler attributes Buttonwood’s staying power to its longstanding tradition of a great product combined with personal connection. “When people walk through our door, they know they can count on us to help them find just the right book or toy they’re looking for,” says Kathy Detwiler.
Facilitating that personal connection is the shop’s year-round staff of 20 full- and part-time employees (which swells to 30 seasonally), who are extremely well-read and well-versed in the extensive inventory of games and toys on offer, including arts and crafts, plush toys, discovery/educational activities, creative play, art supplies, sports and hobbies, novelties, and board games.
While Buttonwood has put down roots in the Chief Justice Cushing Highway shopping plaza for its duration, Storybook Cove has made (and remade) its home in seven different locations within Hanover, including Merchants Row and the Hanover Mall, since its inception. Founded by former school librarian Janet Bibeau, Storybook Cove has been in continuous operation since 1990. In 2019, Storybook Cove relocated to its current location, just inside the parking lot of Dave Delaney’s Columbia Cars.
“We’ve moved several times and we don’t want to do it again,” says Bibeau, referring to the labor-intensive repeated packing, hauling, and unpacking of books. Bibeau opened the original bookstore after she was laid off from her school librarian job, as a result of budget cuts during the recession. Initially, the shop sold only children’s books and continued with that business model for more than 20 years. Then, with the introduction of senior-citizen transportation to the Hanover Mall for “mall walking,” Storybook Cove ushered in the addition of young adult and adult titles. Merchandise has been expanded to include specialty toys and games, such as brain-teasers, board games, trivia, puzzles, journals, and more.
“We’ve been around so long that now we see customers who used to shop for their children coming in to shop for their grandchildren,” says Bibeau. The 1,400-square-foot retail space is brimming with titles that are helpfully organized by age group as well as by genre and category, including bestsellers, fantasy/science fiction, realistic, mystery, historical fiction, history, science, language, travel, and more. Drawing upon her school librarian background, she collaborates with teachers and librarians to offer special reading programs as well as the full list of summer reading titles by grade level.
Reading Between the Lines: Community Connection
In the case of all four of these bookstores, a solid community connection lies at the heart of their success. In their own ways, these booksellers continually strive to give their loyal patrons multiple reasons to keep coming back, again and again.
First and foremost, they differentiate themselves from online retailers by fostering a personal rapport with customers they can greet by name and with whom they can share first-hand reading recommendations. At Buttonwood, for example, book manager Kristine Jelstrom-Hamill doles out the latest advance copies of forthcoming titles to the store’s well-read staff each week.
“Kristine has a discerning aptitude for putting the right books into the right hands,” notes Detwiler. As a result, adds Jelstrom-Hamill, “When people come to the store, we can confidently help them find books they’d enjoy reading.”
At Storybook Cove, Bibeau has expanded the store’s special-order options with “Books from the Cove Subscription Box” sets for adults and children that are customized to the individual reader. The staff hand-picks the books in each subscription box according to the reader’s preferred genres, authors, interests, budget and delivery frequency. “Subscriptions have become very popular,” says Bibeau. “People enjoy seeing what we choose for them, and we enjoy doing it.”
Social opportunities, in the form of book club meetings and special meet-the-author events, further set these local independent bookstores apart. At Books & Sundry, Richards has responded to the outpouring of interest from the local poetry community and now hosts Poetry: The Art of Words, a monthly afternoon of open-mic poetry. “It’s moderated by two featured poets and it’s open to the public,” says Richards. “We always have a full house for the afternoon.”
The customer relationship extends beyond books to encompass the exclusive merchandise selected specifically for bibliophiles at each store. At Borgin’s Books, Crowley offers a personally curated selection of specialty gifts and cards, including purses designed to look like books, beverage coasters depicting beloved book covers, book-themed puzzles, magnets, bookmarks, socks, kitchen spoons, jewelry, teas, and pillows, as well as book-related scented soaps that Crowley makes herself. “It’s something I enjoy that I thought would appeal to book lovers.” Wrapping up the independent bookstore experience are complimentary gift-wrapping services, adding convenience and that special finishing touch.
A Pop-Up Bookshop Finds a Home in Duxbury
Since 2019, Booked., a local pop-up bookstore in Duxbury, has led a nomadic existence, setting up shop at community events all over the South Shore, such as the Duxbury Spring Antique Show, the Hingham Holiday Fair, and the Mayflower Beer Garden at The Pinehills in Plymouth, throughout the year.
In October of 2022, after more than three years on the move, Booked. settled into a brick-and-mortar storefront at Duxbury Marketplace in Halls Corner, offering the latest bestsellers, children’s books, middle-grade novels, adult fiction and nonfiction titles, as well as book-related gift items and games.
Owner Jane Robbins worked for several years at Westwinds, Duxbury’s longtime beloved bookstore, before its closure. She considered purchasing the shop but decided instead to try taking the bookshop model on the road, along with friend and business partner Sallyann Roberts, to reduce overhead and expenses. While the experiment proved a worthwhile one, especially when the Covid pandemic took hold, “operating a pop-up shop was a lot of work, a lot of schlepping around,” says Robbins. “It’s nice to be in one place, and this is a perfect space for me,” she says of her shop’s new home at Duxbury Marketplace. Now, she adds, her customers will always know where to find her—no more chasing Booked. around.
As the latest in a series of booksellers to open a store on the South Shore, Robbins shares in the optimism of being able to fill a void for book-lovers. “There seems to be a resurgence of independent bookstores. People are really looking for community and that’s what I’m looking to do here.”
Visit a bookstore near you!
35 G Depot St., Duxbury
Tuesday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Books & Sundry
150 Water St., Plymouth
Monday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
12 North St., Plymouth
Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Buttonwood Books & Toys
747 Chief Cushing Highway, Cohasset
Monday - Friday 9:30 - 6 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 - 5:30
Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
775 Washington St., Hanover
(behind Dave Delaney’s
Monday - Saturday
9:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.