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Happy to Be Here: A community asset changes hands

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The Doylestown Bookshop’s name was the Village Green in 1998 when Pat Gerney and her husband, Phil, bought it. Pat had worked in the shop for a half dozen years when it started going downhill.

Local bookshops were threatened at the time by the large chains like Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon. The future of local independent stores looked bleak.

The Gerneys turned the Village Green around by increasing the inventory and focusing on customer service. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, “We brought in a variety of authors including Philadelphia Phillies player Chris Coste, James McBride, and popular children’s book author Judy Schachner,” Pat Gerney told the American Booksellers Association. They held a customer appreciation night with a storewide sale, refreshments and raffle prizes.

“We assumed the lease and purchased what was left after bankruptcy (only shelving and fixtures),” Pat said. Sales climbed year after year, as Pat anticipated – she thought from the beginning that Doylestown could support an independent bookstore.

The Gerneys’ five-year plan for Doylestown Bookshop was to stay the course, without launching significant changes, but continuing its customer service, like personally delivering books to customers who couldn’t get to the shop.

Along came Glenda Childs from Nashville – four years later. Her husband, Allen, was about to retire. The family had traveled a lot, moving every two or three years, but they were looking to settle into one place, somewhere on the East Coast, possibly Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey. Glenda had grown up in Western Pennsylvania and both she and Allen were graduates of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

And Glenda wanted to own a bookstore.

In 2012, she placed an ad with the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the Doylestown Bookshop was one of the shops to come to the surface. Glenda visited the shop and drove around Doylestown streets discovering the county seat and the vibrant center of town, the courthouse, the shops, the restaurants and sidewalks filled with people.

Glenda was thrilled with what she saw. She called her husband. “I want you to come and see this,” she said. He obliged, and together they saw what looked like a good business opportunity in a thriving town, an 8,000-square-foot space on the ground floor of a hundred-year-old three-story brick building, once the town’s department store.

The couple bought the business and kept the name and just five years later they opened the Lahaska Bookshop in Peddler’s Village, another shop in a high traffic area for tourists.

Today, in Doylestown, a front window proclaims in giant letters “25 years of bookselling.”

The shop has survived, Glenda said in a Herald interview, because it has remained relevant and because of its superior staff. “It’s a mission-driven business,” she said.

The mission includes, bringing discovery, the past, present and the future to readers, supporting and connecting to the community through books and events, offering a choice for entertainment and education, providing an inviting and comfortable space, offering shelves of books to explore, and a cafe with cozy chairs, supporting families with books, games and toys, and enriching the personal, educational and professional experience of customers. The shop is a generous donor to community groups – 10 donations a month are budgeted.

After more than 10 years of the Childs’ ownership, the Doylestown Bookshop is changing hands, with new owners, Damian and Lauren Ford, who are also owners of Hendrixson’s Furniture in Furlong and Emmaus. “I like them a lot,” Glenda said, confident that the shop is in good hands.

Glenda is staying on board, easing her way out by Christmas, to help manage the complexities of running a bookstore – like dealing more than 70 vendors, and arranging future plans with staff buyers for the two shops.

Like Glenda, Allen has settled into Bucks County, starting as a board member for the Central Bucks YMCA, he became the first CEO of PA State Alliance of YMCAs, He recently retired from that position and will serve as the chief volunteer officer (CVO) for the YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties board of directors. He’s also served as CEO of the Bucks County Opportunity Council and as managing partner for the Doylestown Bookshop.

Glenda and Allen have a daughter who lives in Ambler, a son in Chicago and a son in North Dakota. They come together on holidays at a house in the lake region of New York State. That will be their destination this winter after the expected holiday rush.

The Childs hit upon an opportunity back in 2012, in an uncertain period, and built it into a successful enterprise. According to pundits then, bookshops would belong to the past.

“The rapid growth of physical bookshops is especially surprising at a time when brick and mortar stores face crushing competition from Amazon and other online retailers,” the New York Times said in a recent article, adding that the pandemic increased the importance of local bookshops. “People are really looking for a community where they get real recommendations from real people,” one bookseller said. “We’re not just basing things off of algorithms.”


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