The Beginning of a New Era for Monte Cristo

Two months ago, the Monte Cristo Bookshop’s fate was completely up in the air. On August 22nd, it will open its doors as a new nonprofit bookshop.

It was early summer of 2014 when Michael Whitehouse grabbed a three day old paper from his back seat to read. In the business section, an article discussed a bookshop in New London going up for sale because the owners were no longer able to live off the earnings from the store and had to pursue new careers. Michael met with the owners, Chris and Gina, to discuss the possibility of buying the shop. After a couple of days of discussion, Chris called Michael for a fateful conversation, in which he revealed that it had been decided to sell the shop to another bidder. (Wouldn’t be a very dramatic story if it was that simple, would it?)

Michael went off on his merry way, celebrated the birth of his first child Rowan to his lovely wife Amy, and largely put the bookshop out of his mind, until another phone call in early August changed the course of bookshop history in New London forever. It was Chris Jones and he wanted to know if Michael was still interested in the shop.

This time, Chris sent Michael the full financial records to review, and Michael met with Chris and Gina again. As you know, if you are a fan of the Monte Cristo Bookshop, the shop is a wonderful asset to New London. It brings great authors, hosts insightful conversations, and is a cultural resource. It also doesn’t make very much money at all. It makes enough to cover the bills, but not enough to support an owner.

When Michael sat down with Chris and Gina, the conversation came down to one key question: “Are you trying to get money from the shop or are you trying to keep the mission going?” They both immediately replied that the mission was more important. The shop was never about the money, it was always about what they could do for the community. “Good,” answered Michael, “then I have a solution.”

In 2008, Michael oversaw the formation of a nonprofit, volunteer run collective game store in Amherst, Massachusetts known as Worlds Apart Games. The organization exists to this day for the mission of providing a social space for people interested in games and other geeky pursuits. It is entirely volunteer run, and it is self supporting. That same model seemed ideal for Monte Cristo Bookshop as well.

After that meeting, things moved quickly, and on Friday, August 22nd, at 11 AM the Monte Cristo Collective Bookshop will open its doors for the first time. Volunteer run. Nonprofit. A new phase for a cultural institution in the city of New London.

This weekend, we will be celebrating this exciting new transition with a weekend full of activities:

Friday, 5:30 PM - Ribbon cutting with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce
Saturday, 2:00 PM - Carol Mon presents A Guide to Networking for Introverts
Sunday, 4:00 PM - Nick Checker reads from his new book SCRATCH

All day Saturday (10-8) and Sunday (12-6), we will have our entire inventory of thousands of used books for sale in a sidewalk sale, accompanied by a number of local artists.

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The Beginning of a New Era for Monte Cristo

Two months ago, the Monte Cristo Bookshop’s fate was completely up in the air. On August 22nd, it will open its doors as a new nonprofit bookshop.

It was early summer of 2014 when Michael Whitehouse grabbed a three day old paper from his back seat to read. In the business section, an article discussed a bookshop in New London going up for sale because the owners were no longer able to live off the earnings from the store and had to pursue new careers. Michael met with the owners, Chris and Gina, to discuss the possibility of buying the shop. After a couple of days of discussion, Chris called Michael for a fateful conversation, in which he revealed that it had been decided to sell the shop to another bidder. (Wouldn’t be a very dramatic story if it was that simple, would it?)

Michael went off on his merry way, celebrated the birth of his first child Rowan to his lovely wife Amy, and largely put the bookshop out of his mind, until another phone call in early August changed the course of bookshop history in New London forever. It was Chris Jones and he wanted to know if Michael was still interested in the shop.

This time, Chris sent Michael the full financial records to review, and Michael met with Chris and Gina again. As you know, if you are a fan of the Monte Cristo Bookshop, the shop is a wonderful asset to New London. It brings great authors, hosts insightful conversations, and is a cultural resource. It also doesn’t make very much money at all. It makes enough to cover the bills, but not enough to support an owner.

When Michael sat down with Chris and Gina, the conversation came down to one key question: “Are you trying to get money from the shop or are you trying to keep the mission going?” They both immediately replied that the mission was more important. The shop was never about the money, it was always about what they could do for the community. “Good,” answered Michael, “then I have a solution.”

In 2008, Michael oversaw the formation of a nonprofit, volunteer run collective game store in Amherst, Massachusetts known as Worlds Apart Games. The organization exists to this day for the mission of providing a social space for people interested in games and other geeky pursuits. It is entirely volunteer run, and it is self supporting. That same model seemed ideal for Monte Cristo Bookshop as well.

After that meeting, things moved quickly, and on Friday, August 22nd, at 11 AM the Monte Cristo Collective Bookshop will open its doors for the first time. Volunteer run. Nonprofit. A new phase for a cultural institution in the city of New London.

This weekend, we will be celebrating this exciting new transition with a weekend full of activities:

Friday, 5:30 PM – Ribbon cutting with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce
Saturday, 2:00 PM – Carol Mon presents A Guide to Networking for Introverts
Sunday, 4:00 PM – Nick Checker reads from his new book SCRATCH

All day Saturday (10-8) and Sunday (12-6), we will have our entire inventory of thousands of used books for sale in a sidewalk sale, accompanied by a number of local artists.

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Spring has Sprung!

Howdy bookworms, nosy internet spies, and those wondering what a Monte Cristo is…(sandwich? island? cigar?)

I love reading books. I also like other things like music, exercising, mindless cellphone games, playing with the baby, the Red Sox and posting long nonsensical Facebook posts.

A big thank you to the editors at the New London Day, our local independent newspaper, for their very gracious editorial urging readers to support local independent bookstores. Being in working class downtown New London certainly presents challenges but our own outside-the-box thinking and everlasting community support keeps these lights on. Of course is there weren’t such amazing books being put out by incredible authors, local and national, this effort would be for nothing.

As I am typing there are passerbys pointing at our signs in the window. This one has a Kanye West quote “I am not a fan of books” is almost as popular as our “I like big books and I cannot lie.” Tourists and residents take photos of themselves next to the sign.

The dog days of winter business are behind us. While there wasn’t a single day we went without a customer, we needed something extra to give us a boost. We survived with the support of events. Such as the Cat in the Hat Ball at Mitchell College, Ari Shavit at Beth-El Congregation Synagogue, Jane Green at the Waterford Public Library, Allegra di Bonaventura at Waterford Library, New London Landmarks, East Lyme Historical Society, and Groton Public Library. We look forward to the upcoming Storytelling Festival at Connecticut College, and the Coast Guard Museum opening ceremony in May.

Speaking of May, Suzanne Palmieri, one of my favorite Connecticut human beings…and author, will be doing an event in our shop to kick off our spring event series. It doesn’t get any better than Suzanne. If you’re in a book club and you haven’t read Witch of Little Italy, your book club just ‘ain’t with it, man’

The coffee shop is taking some more time to fully be installed into the store. We have to renovate many more things before we can pipe in that delicious goodness. The front of the store is still setup ready for us to take the next step. Things are complicated and cost money but we will get there. We always get there!

Some cool new books I’ve read recently.
(obviously I’m a nonfiction nerd)

NONFICTION
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku
Gulp by Mary Roach

FICTION
Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
The Returned by Jason Mott

See ya!
Chris

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Another Year Older, A New One Has Begun

Chris here!

Greetings independent bookstore addicts, downtown New London visionaries, and meddlesome prying e-peepers. Thank you for your support the past 14 months! Monte Cristo Bookshop has now been open for a full calendar year. What a year it has been. Lessons learned and lessons learned.

First, it is really difficult to sell books. We talk books. We write about books for review publications. We interview authors. We host author events. We donate books. We are all over the internet. Our events get publicity. We have bumper stickers. We do what it takes to get customers into the door.

Second, we sell many books…so I guess all of that work pays off, right? Well, sort of. We have many obligations as a business including rent, utilities, taxes, inventory expense, blazzy-blah. It leaves us left with scraps. We didn’t start a bookstore to make a million dollars after all. To make it on our shoestring budget, to make it 14 months? That’s a real accomplishment we are proud of.

In addition to having a new baby being born to Gina and I in June, 2013 was full of bookstore memories for me. Let’s do a recap.

Moving the store: In June, we moved the entire operation two blocks from our Washington Street location to 38 Green Street. If you had seen the piano we moved down the middle of State Street you would have seen it being pushed by 5 young guys in broad daylight. When we got a greenlight in front of city hall it was hi-fives. A personal favorite memory of mine. Thank you to Jake, Pat, Jason, and other volunteers. We moved the whole shabang in 5 days and in ten days we were a functioning store again. We did very little asking for volunteers. Some people actually felt “out of the loop” because we didn’t ask them?! Let me explain something to clear this up. When we started this adventure we had donations in our fundraiser from the community. We swore that we would never, ever, ask for the public’s assistance again. Our biggest critics during the fundraiser called us out that we had no idea how to run a store and that a bookstore would never work without further donations. Well so far, they are wrong. We want to keep it that way. No further donations of money nor labor. Used book donations on the other hand, heck yeah bring em on!

Meeting incredible authors: There are authors that we meet, and then there are authors that become integral to our operations. We have built personal relationships with many authors that go far beyond a simple book signing-thanks for the check-see ya. Suzanne Palmieri, Barbara Shapiro, Constant Waterman, Allegra di Bonaventura, Gerri Brousseau, Marian Lanouette, Thurman P Banks Jr, James N. Littlefield, Mark Nelson O’Brien, Frances Gilbert, The Kildays, Anna Westbrook. The list goes on and on. We cannot thank them enough for their support but also for their friendship.

Fish Tales, Tugs and Sails Festival: A hot day under the tents. We brought thousands of books onto the Custom House Pier and worked with great childrens authors. Sales were incredible this day and we had a wonderful time. People told us they had never seen so many books at a festival. Funny thing is, I had to explain we weren’t some travelling gypsy booksellers and that we were an actual downtown bookstore.

Schooner Fest: Another Festival! We packed thousands of books under a 20×20 tent on City Pier back in September during the festival. With 9 authors giving readings and interviews throughout the day. Giant tall ships surrounding us. An incredible record in sales. It couldn’t have been any nicer for weather. Allegra di Bonaventura was giving a talk on her history books when, of all things, we were interrupted by revolutionary war re-enactors! A cannon then went off.

Colchester Pumpkins and Pooches Fall Dog Festival: Dogs, dogs, rain, dogs. Author Richard Okun did a booksigning underneath the outside tent, this time in Colchester CT. It was rainy. Like a wet dog. The Lions Club of Colchester ran the event flawlessly. This was the day after Tom Clancy died and wouldn’t you know that we sold many more Clancy titles than actual dog titles. It happens…

Kiwanis Christmas Party: This was probably the highlight of my year. Kiwanis club throw an annual party for ~20 underprivileged kids. They have lunch, shower them with gifts and do a Santa Clause line. I thought, why are they buying these gifts from Amazon and big box stores when those stores don’t do anything else to help? So I decided to make their purchase from Monte Cristo extra special by bringing in the author of “The Cookie Thief”, Frances Gilbert, to read to the kids and sign books at the event. It was like magic. It reminded me of something that had happened during my childhood but that’s for another blog…

Horizon Wings presents: OWLS. This event was really cool. Four live owls were brought into the store courtesy of Horizon Wings raptor rehabilitation clinic. The store was packed!

Thank you thank you thank you thank you all~~ here’s to 14 more months!

And here’s an article in Publishers Weekly where I was quoted.

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