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Shiretown Books to Close

Danforth Pewter Plans Move to Woodstock Storefront

  • A customer browses the selections at Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., on Feb. 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A customer browses the selections at Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., on Feb. 28, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ron Miller, who has owned the Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., for three years, answers the phone at the shop on Feb. 28, 2014. The store will be closing at the end of March. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Ron Miller, who has owned the Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., for three years, answers the phone at the shop on Feb. 28, 2014. The store will be closing at the end of March.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • A customer browses the selections at Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., on Feb. 28, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Ron Miller, who has owned the Shiretown Bookstore in Woodstock, Vt., for three years, answers the phone at the shop on Feb. 28, 2014. The store will be closing at the end of March. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Woodstock — The face of Central Street will change in the next few weeks as one of the town’s two independent bookstores closes and a business that started here almost 40 years ago returns.

After 10 years of operation, Shiretown Books will close, a victim of a sluggish economy and electronic book sales, owner Ron Miller said last week.

When Miller closes in the next few weeks, the store with its dark red awnings will be remodeled and Danforth Pewter will open in the space.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Miller said. “The independent book business has gotten more and more difficult with so many books on Kindel and Nooks and people buying online. It’s gotten harder for someone like me to sell books, and the economy is not so robust either.”

Miller bought Shiretown Books in 2011 after retiring from teaching American history at Champlain and Goddard colleges.

“I didn’t expect to make a lot of money. I saw it more as a way to get established in town and to get to know people here. In that sense, it has been very successful,” said Miller, who serves on the board of the Bookstock festival and is the new director of the Woodstock Learning Collaborative, where he also teaches history.

Danforth Pewter, which started in a barn in Woodstock in 1975, will move its store from Route 4 in Quechee Gorge Village to 9 Central St. in time for opening by Memorial Day, said Judi Danforth, who owns the Middlebury, Vt.-based business with her husband, Fred. The company manufactures and sells pewter giftware and home and personal accessories in its four stores in Vermont, one in Williamsburg, Va., and to independent gift shops throughout the U.S.

“I’m a big supporter of independent bookstores, and I’m sorry to see Woodstock losing one, but we’re very excited about being back in Woodstock. It’s like coming home,” said Danforth, who grew up in Claremont, trained as a silversmith at Rochester Technical Institute in New York and apprenticed as a pewtersmith in Canada before starting the business.

“I always wanted to be a silversmith, and it was just serendipitous that I ended up married to a man who is a direct descendant of highly skilled pewtersmiths in colonial Connecticut.”

The Quechee store is in a mall-like setting with other stores, and Danforth Pewter doesn’t have walk-by window exposure, which the Woodstock store will have.

“We sell a lot of jewelry, and it’s important to have it so people can walk by and see it. That will be a nice thing about the store.”

Since starting the business, Danforth said, they have attempted to educate people about pewter — that it doesn’t contain lead and that the pewter they produce is bright and doesn’t tarnish like silver.

The popularity of pewter peaks and wains, and misconceptions have contributed to downturns, she said.

“We’ve found that educating people is very important and a big part of our business.”

The Danforths may not have moved from Woodstock shortly after starting the business, but an opportunity for a house and workshop opened in Middlebury, where Fred Danforth went to college, and the couple decided to move.

“It was a tough decision, but we really couldn’t find anything that we could afford in Woodstock,” she said. “But we’re very excited to be coming back. It’s almost our 40th anniversary, and it seems right to be coming back to Woodstock.”

When he purchased Shiretown Books in 2011, Miller thought the store was underperforming and had the potential to increase sales by as much as 15 percent a year. He recently looked back at sales figures from before the economic downturn and found that his current sales are less than half of what the store did in 2007 and 2008. “It just hasn’t done what I’d hoped,” he said.

However, the closing of Shiretown is a bit of an anomaly and bucks the national trend that is seeing renewed growth in independent bookstores.

Nationwide, independent bookstores showed an 8 percent growth in 2012, and although final figures are not available, the first two quarters of 2013 showed increased sales in the double digits, according to the Small Business Administration.

And the membership of the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, grew by 6.4 percent in 2013 to 2,022 members, and the association reports that despite e-books and Amazon, there are more stores opening nationwide than closing.

Before closing Shiretown Books, Miller will attempt to sell his remaining inventory.

“We’re selling new and used books for 40 percent off and cards, journals and calendars at a higher discount,” he said, adding that books that remain will be given to Bookstock.

“It’s hard to sustain two bookstores in a small town. Yankee Bookshop (Woodstock’s other store) is well established and has a large loyal following. They will do well.”

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.