Dartmouth grad plans ‘book and bar’ concept in prime Hanover space  

  • Allie Levy, a 29-year-old Dartmouth graduate, plans to put a combination bookstore, cafe and bar in the space previously occupied by the iconic Dartmouth Bookstore. (Courtesy photograph) courtesy photograph

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 2/1/2019 6:52:01 PM
Modified: 2/2/2019 10:03:50 PM

HANOVER — A 29-year-old Dartmouth College alumna plans to open a new bookstore, cafe and beer/wine bar in the former Dartmouth Bookstore space, replacing a business whose closing late last year left local book lovers distraught and represented a major blow to downtown Hanover’s retail scene.

Allie Levy, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2011 and has worked both in book publishing and at one of the country’s trendsetting “bookstore/bars” in Denver, has signed a lease to occupy nearly 2,700 square feet on the first floor of the former Dartmouth Bookstore on South Main Street.

Levy, who is targeting a fall opening, said she plans to keep the store open until 10 p.m.

The store, to be named Still North Books, will include a cafe and a beer and wine bar that will seat 30 to 50 customers. The bar will serve a menu of tapas-style foods with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Levy, who hopes to expand to offering a limited cocktail menu after opening, will need to obtain a liquor license.

Levy’s plan to combine a bookstore with a cafe and bar — the trend is growing among independent bookstores around the country — fits with building owner Jay Campion’s concept about how traditional brick-and-mortar retail needs to evolve in the era of online shopping.

“It’s difficult for people to separate product acquisition from shopping,” Campion said on Friday. “Shopping is an experience and product acquisition is getting stuff. You can’t compete with the internet for getting stuff. It’s just not possible.”

Campion said he selected Levy to lease the space for a new bookstore because “she’s smart and has experience in the book business. She’s a real book person and has a modern approach. It’s a good fit.”

Still North Books will be part of an extensive renovation project that Campion plans at 33 South Main Street as he divides the two floors and basement which the Dartmouth Bookstore occupied into an office space on the second floor and retail spaces on the first floor.

The entrance of the bookstore will be via Allen Street as opposed to the front entrance of the former Dartmouth Bookstore. The front building space will be subdivided into space for other retailers.

The Dartmouth Bookstore closed in December after being in business for 146 years. The store, which had been owned by national book store chain Barnes & Noble since 2009, was losing $250,000 a year and could not justify remaining in business at the level of rent and maintenance it was paying.

Levy, an English major from Detroit, said she’d been thinking about opening an independent bookstore in Hanover almost since her student days. But she realized there would be no room in the market for another entrant with the Dartmouth Bookstore, The Norwich Bookstore across the Connecticut River and used bookstore Left Bank Books above The Dirt Cowboy Cafe.

Levy was inspired to revive her ambition when she learned last October through the trade newsletter Shelf Awareness that the Dartmouth Bookstore would be closing, she said in an interview. So she reached out to Campion, whose family owned the former Campion’s department store and has been associated with downtown Hanover retailing since the early 20th century.

Levy was the event coordinator at the bookstore/wine bar BookBar in Denver, which she credits with inspiring Still North Books. BookBar is widely recognized as one of the trendsetters in the books-and-brew movement, which combines a “curated” stock of books with an informal cafe-style atmosphere that encourages socializing, literary events, repasts and — hopefully — book purchases.

“When I was in Hanover in November, I couldn’t stop thinking how Hanover needed an independent bookstore. I had seen how BookBar worked in Denver and thought how that idea could really work in Hanover, too,” Levy said on Friday from the New York City offices of publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she was spending her last day working in the marketing department of the trade book division.

Still North Books — the store takes its name from a line in the Dartmouth school song, Alma Mater — will carry a stock of 7,000 to 10,000 titles spanning everything from new releases to books by Dartmouth faculty and local authors.

The bookstore will also have a web portal for online ordering.

Levy said a key element of Still North Books will be a “programming” component that will feature book signings, children’s story times and other events, including class discussions for Dartmouth students.

“I’m hoping to create a space that is really appealing both for students but also everyone else in the Upper Valley community,” she said.

Levy said she estimates it will require at least $100,000 to acquire a stock of books, which she hopes to finance through a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com targeting Upper Valley residents and the Dartmouth community.

Additional startup costs, such as build-out, fixtures, professional services and operating expenses, will be financed by Levy’s personal funds and bank loans, she said. She expects to employ up to four people full time and five to six people part time.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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