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Amherst Books still thriving after 15 years

  • Shannon Ramsey and Nat Herold, co-owners of Amherst Books, are celebrating the store’s 15th anniversary this Friday with a sale and other events. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shannon Ramsey and Nat Herold, co-owners of Amherst Books on Main street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shannon Ramsey and Nat Herold, co-owners of Amherst Books on Main street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Books, on Main Street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nat Herold and Shannon Ramsey, co-owners of Amherst Books, have used different strategies to keep the independent store going for 15 years. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Books sells new and used books; the latter are being marked up here with pricess which are in the basement of the store on Main street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Books, on Main Street, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this Friday, Nov. 9. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nat Herold and Shannon Ramsey help a regular customer, Robbie Moll, who had come to Amherst Books to drop off some used books and receive store credit. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst Books, on Main Street, is marking its 15 anniversary this Friday, Nov. 9amsey and Nat Herold. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shannon Ramsey and Nat Herold, co-owners of Amherst Books on Main street Amherst, have varied their inventory to keep up with changing times. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nat Herold helps a regular customer, Robbie Moll, who had come in to drop off used books and receive store credit. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of French literary theorist Roland Barthes.

When Amherst Books opened its doors in 2003, the last thing on the minds of staff was where it might be in 15 years.

But after a decade and a half of changing times and challenges, the downtown Amherst shop is still thriving — and the bookstore will be kicking off its 15th anniversary celebration on Friday, Nov. 9 with music, refreshments, a 15% off sale and a panel of local writers, including Norton Juster, author of “The Phantom Toolbooth.”

Amherst Books began when co-owner Nat Herold purchased the space of the former Atticus Bookstore with his former colleague, Mark Wootton, after Herold had spent some 20 years in town working in other bookstores; he had initially moved to Amherst in 1981 from Maryland, where he was attending Johns Hopkins University.

“Being a bookseller was one of the things I always wanted to do,” said Herold. “While I was in graduate school, I was looking for an excuse to go on leave. A friend of mine was managing a bookstore and he said, ‘Why don’t you come up to Amherst? In about three months I’m going to quit, and I’ll make sure you’re the manager.’ ”

Shannon Ramsey, the new co-owner of Amherst Books, came on board after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2008 with a degree in environmental design. “I wasn’t an English major or anything. I think a lot of people like to assume that when they meet you and learn you work at a bookstore,” said Ramsey. “But I’ve always loved reading and libraries.”

Ramsey fought long and hard for a job at the W.E.B. DuBois Library at UMass and finally scored one her senior year, just before beginning her career at Amherst Books.

“After working in DuBois, I got a job at Amherst Books and fell in love with it,” she said. “When it became apparent that Mark wanted to retire, I kind of just pestered him until he let me apprentice him. I spent a year learning what he did so when he retired, I could take up the job.”

In its 15 years, Amherst Books has had to operate in the face of both positive and negative changes. Herold noted that during the rise of the digital era, he, Ramsey and Wootton had to adapt to keep their heads above water.

“We used to be very academic,” said Herold. “We were the place all the local academics would come to find out what was new in their field. Amazon and company have hurt us — the big difficulty was four or five years ago when [UMass] made the deal with Amazon [to buy textbooks]. That really pulled the rug out from under us.” (The Amazon-UMass deal is slated to end after December)

While Herold says the store is still qualitatively strong in academics, it has also expanded its stock of young adult, science-fiction and fantasy books as those genres have become increasingly popular. “A lot of people are starting to come to us knowing we’re going to have something interesting in those sections,” said Ramsey.

The store has also incorporated non-book items like T-shirts and other merchandise to make up for smaller book sales.

In addition, Herold and Ramsey have continued to offer books from both local and international authors, as well as hosting about 170 reading and literary events yearly. They attribute the store’s survival — Amherst once had nine bookshops — to its variety.

“The other bookstores had very narrow focuses,” said Ramsey. “I think ultimately, being a specialty niche shop where you only bring a certain type of book became old-fashioned, because people now aren’t browsers so much. They come in knowing exactly what they want.”

The two say they also benefit from a diverse and educated readership in the Valley. “It’s my impression that we only exist because of the community we’re in,” said Ramsey, who calls the region “a special community of people who are interested in local businesses, but also ideas and learning and self-educating.”

Amherst Books looks forward to celebrating its first 15 years and the role it has played in the community this upcoming Friday. “There’s a saying from a French philosopher named Roland Barthes,” Herold added. “ ‘Every book chooses its reader.’ I like to say we’re midwives in that process.”

Books will be sale all day at Amherst Books on Friday, Nov. 9; the official anniversary party, with food, music and appearances by area writers, begins at 5 p.m.