Thursday, November 10, 2011

Portsmouth Rallies to Save RiverRun Bookstore

The story of Portsmouth these days isn't being sold at RiverRun Bookstore.  It is RiverRun Bookstore.  This is a "The Shop Around the Corner"/"You've Got Mail" story that hopes to have an "It's a Wonderful Life" ending.

Bookseller, community activist, and protagonist Tom Holbrook set the scene in a mournful e-mail missive to his mailing list:
After a lot of hard thinking, I've decided not to renew the lease at 20 Congress St., which ends on December 31st.  When we moved into this space five years ago business was booming, the economy was good, and the Kindle didn't exist yet.

Fast forward to 2011 and we simply cannot afford the most expensive real estate in the most expensive city in New Hampshire.  The world of books is a beautiful one, but a shrinking one.  We just can't stay here.
The hue and cry was instant.  It was a front-page news story here, and the plight of the David indie bookstore against the Goliath Amazon-et-al was picked up by the likes of Salon and the L.A. Times.  But its our fabulous local rag, The Wire, who in this blogger's opinion best captured the story.   

People came out of the woodwork and wanted to know what they could do to help save the store.  Holbrook called a meeting--and 150 people crammed into the store. 

This certainly was an unexpected plot twist.  A shop owner openly admitting he got in over his head and asking for help?  A store accepting cash donations?  People willingly giving a store money without exchange for goods?  What store holds a special community meeting to solicit investors?  Who ever heard of such a thing?  As a public relations case study, this is definitely one for the books. 

Fact is, Holbrook might've taken on too much debt, but he has done everything right to date when it comes to public relations. All this tiny store has done is lead Portsmouth's highly successful Buy Local campaign, bring hundreds of big-name authors to our little town, discover a Pulitzer Prize winner, and basically make itself indispensable to the local community. 

Moreover, RiverRun leverages his customer base with Constant Contact and makes excellent use of social media.  Check out the Twitter feed with its own hash tag: #saveRRbooks. 

(Photo credit: New Hampshire Gazette.)
The goodwill Holbrook's built up over the years has come back to help him in a big way.  Now people are donating used books for them to sell, and investors are lining up, checkbooks in hand.  He blogged a recap of the public meeting, and there's plenty of cause for optimism. 

Will this story have a happy ending?  Or will this be another sad chapter in this era of big business squashing the little guy?  We'll just have to wait and see... We can't skip to the end of this book.

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