I got a message last week from Bennett Harris, the owner of Steam Junction, downtown Burlington’s maker space. He was letting me know that Shawna Gentert, our colleague on the Burlington Downtown Corporation Board of Directors and owner with her husband Herb of Persnickety Books, would be leaving the area soon. The family is returning to their home in Oregon because of personal, health-related family matter, Shawna said.
“That’s a shame,” I told Ben when he gave me the news. It’s always disappointing to see someone depart from our community, especially someone who I know likes living here quite a bit and has established a downtown business that is succeeding. Make no mistake, the Genterts aren’t leaving behind a failing operation at Persnickety Books. Far from it. The site at 117 W. Davis Street, conveniently located near Zack’s Hotdogs, Burlington Nutrition and the Downtown Barber Shop, doesn’t lack for steady customers for its mountain of used books. In fact, Shawna says it’s coming off one of its best days ever — on a rainy, dreary day no less — for Small Business Saturday.
“We love it here,” Shawna told me Wednesday, during a meeting of the BDC Promotions Committee when she made the general announcement about the family’s departure back to Oregon. “When we decided to move we picked this city as a place to live. We wish we could stay.”
While our committee was there on Wednesday morning, customers browsed the full shelves of books. There a lot of them packed into that space which is much larger than it looks. There are two floors of books — Shawna estimated there are about 30,000 in all, including a few “at our warehouse … our garage,” she said.
I’ve shopped at Persnickety Books a couple of times myself — last Christmas in fact I picked up a hardback copy of “Seabiscuit” as a gift for my brother. On my Top 10 list of favorite sports books, it’s right there. It’s the kind of store a book lover could spend dozens of hours poring through available titles or prospecting for wonderful finds. What I like best about it is that things are better organized than in some operations. Sometimes used book stores are like massive publishing landfills. The Genterts take the time to make things easier to find. They have also made the store an attractive site. Persnickety just won first place in the downtown Window Decorating Contest for the holiday season.
At the moment the family is looking for a buyer. Ben Harris told me last week to spread the word if I got the chance. Consider it done. I know time is a factor. Shawna said they plan to move back to Oregon in January. Anyone interested can find out more about the store and the Genterts here, including contact information.
I think most of us would like to see a successful business remain downtown. “Downtown is right on the cusp,” Shawna said. I agree. There are more successful businesses downtown than anytime in the last 20 years. The Paramount Theater is expanding into the former florist shop next door to create more event space and Burlington Beer Works is nearing an opening date. Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis told me today that a brewer and a chef have been hired. Equipment is going into the site at the corner of Front and Main streets. A proposed opening date could be around March 1, 2019.
With all this momentum it would be great to keep a used bookstore downtown. It’s one sign of a thriving business and customer community.