Hanover bookstore and bar relies on book sales to get through pandemic

  • Dave Kendall, left, drops off a delivery of books with Kyle Mullins, right, at Still North Books and Bar in Hanover, N.H., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tommy Vanture, of Still North Books and Bar, right, sets out a coffee for customer Geoff Dunbar, of Hanover, left, at the store in Hanover, N.H., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth senior Rachel Kent, center, talks with fellow student Ava Hill, left, and Kellen Appleton, of Lebanon, right, while waiting for beverage orders at Still North Books and Bar in Hanover, N.H., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The store opened a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and is now enforcing a limit of 12 people inside the store and customers can not eat inside. Dartmouth senior Emma Doherty, back left, and Martina Lundstrom, of Lyme, back right, browse the shelves. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kyle Mullins, of Still North Books and Bar, left, recommends a book to customer Susan Higgins, of Manchester, N.H., right, in Hanover, N.H., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Higgins said she and her husband, a Dartmouth alum, were "just getting out of the house for a few hours," and decided to visit Hanover for a walk around town. It was their first time in the store. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tommy Vanture puts out book orders for curbside pickup at Still North Books and Bar in Hanover, N.H., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. "I came here to run a bar, but there's not a bar to speak of here at the moment," said Vanture, who left Florida after his job at the University of Miami was cut just before he was due to start working in the fall. He was hired by his friend, Still North Owner Allie Levy and said he is constantly filling online orders. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Allie Levy, owner of Still North Books and Bar in Hanover, anticipated selling beer, wine and coffee for half of her revenue, but when COVID impacted food and beverage sales she was able to rely more heavily on book sales. (Courtesy photo).

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 1/23/2021 10:36:08 PM
Modified: 1/23/2021 10:36:07 PM

HANOVER — When the Dartmouth Bookstore closed at the end of 2019, Allie Levy saw a business opportunity. Levy, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2011, had worked in retail and publishing in New York and Denver, but was always looking for a way back to the Upper Valley. Within a year of the bookstore closing, Levy opened Still North Books and Bar, an independent bookstore, coffee shop and bar in Hanover.

“I wanted to create this space to offer a (place) for people to gather, to come sit, read a book, have an experience, do a puzzle at our puzzle table,” Levy explained.

With so many facets to the business, Still North wasn’t fully opened and operational until February. For a month, business was going great. Levy had hoped that eventually books and other merchandise would make up half of revenue, with food and beverage making up the other half; she was pleasantly surprised to reach that 50/50 balance the first month.

“Book sales have always been stronger than I envisioned,” she said. “I underestimated how much people want to make sure that there’s an independent bookstore in Hanover.”

That would become essential when the pandemic shut down Still North in March. Levy hadn’t planned to focus on a website until the second year of the business, but she quickly created one to fulfill and ship orders. With time, Still North reopened for browsing by appointment, and later for drop-in browsing.

Levy began selling coffee and baked goods again but hasn’t restarted beer and wine sales. That portion of business was targeted toward students, and with most students off campus and ongoing concerns about the virus, Levy has opted to keep alcohol sales paused. However, she hopes to be serving again by patio season in the spring and summer.

Luckily, despite losing half of her revenue streams, book sales have been able to cover the loss on the food and beverage side. Right now, 90% of revenue is from merchandise sales.

“Book sales have been well over what I projected,” Levy said.

She previously worked in a bookstore in Denver and thought she knew what to expect, but the Hanover community reads even more voraciously than anticipated, especially while stuck home in quarantine.

“It’s New England,” Levy said. “We like to be cozy and read books. Hanover is a really intellectually curious community.”

At first, Levy wasn’t sure what her customers would want to read, but she’s learned they’re willing to give almost anything a shot. That’s allowed her to take chances on stocking lesser-known books.

“That’s been really fun,” Levy said. “It’s helped make our selection a little more robust.”

Right now, Still North Books and Bar doesn’t sell any textbooks, other than the occasional special order. Levy is exploring whether she’d like to stock textbooks in the future, but hasn’t yet decided.

Despite the successes of the store even during the pandemic, the year has been trying for Levy. Being a 31-year-old entrepreneur launching her first business in 2020 was no small feat. But community support and networking with other independent bookstore owners has helped Levy deal with the challenges.

In early January, Levy took some time off, going back to a curbside-pickup model to give her and her seven staff a bit of a breather, letting them focus on projects like cleaning and inventory.

“We had a really busy holiday season, and we all found ourselves, with the news and COVID, needing a little of a break,” she said. “It gave us a chance to catch our breath.”

With vaccination efforts picking up, Levy is aiming for a second year that is a bit more calm than her first.

“I hope we have the opportunity to learn what being a bookstore, cafe and bar looks like in Hanover when there’s not a pandemic,” she said.

“A lot of the testing of the concept that happens during the first year in business, it was radically different for us. I look forward to this space being used for what we envisioned it as.”

This story is part of a series shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.




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