Q: Although Burton’s Books is a Greenport institution, founded in 1979, it’s only been yours for a little while; how did you get into the book business? A: Through my love of reading. Reading took off for me senior year of college; I set the goal of reading War & Peace by Tolstoy for fun. I really got into it. That summer I moved west to Tahoe and got a job in the bookstore in Truckee. That’s when my love of books and work really meshed. I was there only for a year, then moved back.
I remained a big reader, turned Barnes & Noble into a regular haunt. I never thought I’d own a bookstore, but as soon as I read the article about this place I knew I wanted it. And six months later, I was here.
Q: Were you in retail before this?
A: No. My only legitimate retail experience was that Truckee bookstore.
Before buying Burton’s Books I was in Higher Ed administration, worked at Hofstra University for 10 years. So this was a complete career change.
Q: Given your lack of experience, have there been any big surprises?
A: Mostly pleasant ones. I didn’t really understand the publishing influence in this town—I had no idea how many people here are authors, publishers, in advertising—so many people come through these doors with a ton of experience and are happy to be helpful with tips and advice. They’ve been very helpful getting everything into place. I was winging it for the most part.
Q: How did you get to Greenport? The North Fork is very different than Hofstra.
A: My mom moved out here about 3 years ago—she’s out here full time—and I’d visit her. Before that I’d only been here a couple times, even though I’d grown up on Long Island. The more I came to visit the more I thought: How can I get here full time? Then a friend of mine forwarded me the article about Burton’s being up for sale.
Q: You read an article and bought a bookstore?
A: I called spur of the moment, just because the structure was in place, the foundation was laid; here was a bookstore that had been a bookstore for more than 30 years. I’d never set foot in it, didn’t know what his stock was like. I just knew I wanted to own it.
Q: Are you enjoying being a bookstore proprietor?
A: I love it. I love the environment. I love being around books, talking about books all day. I love the autonomy of it, making the decisions, I love having passion about it, putting my passion in to it all. And I love the North Fork, the people. Pretty much every day I meet someone interesting, have an interesting conversation. I get so much positive feedback. People love the fact that the bookstore is continuing, they like my selection, the way it’s been refurbished. It’s all really motivating.
Q: Do you do author events?
A: We’ve had a few author events, some are in the works right now. It’s definitely something I’m trying to get a handle on. It’s something we really want to be doing throughout the winter, when there’s much less going on.
Just getting the logistics, getting the events arranged, that’s definitely been one of the more challenging aspects of the bookstore, but I’m really excited about it.
Q: A lot of bookstores are generic, corporate chains. You’re not, you’re a small town indy bookstore. But what does really mean from the customer’s perspective? How is the Burton’s Bookstore experience different?
A: I’d say it’s two pronged. One, every book in the store is hand picked by me. I spend a lot of time looking for books that I think people who come in here would like. I’m always watching what people are reading, what they are buying, trend spotting, anticipating. I really make an effort to have as varied a selection as possible. I pride myself on being speedily responsive to customer requests, and stocking a great variety.
Two, within all that variety I’ve got a strong collection of local authors and nautically themed books that are appropriate for a maritime town like Greenport.
Q: Is there any part of being a bookstore that you like best?
A: My favorite part is when a customer wants a book, but doesn’t know what. We walk around, we talk about what they like, and we find the next book they will love. I love giving that personal attention, I could do that all day, I love helping people find their next book.
Q: You’re closing out year one as Burton Books soon. Are there any changes still to come?
A: Well, we’re going to get more seating, we’re redoing the floor. We want to be a place where more people can congregate, relax and browse.
And in addition to the winter author events, maybe we’ll do some children’s events, where kids get read to and have an activity. This summer we had a mystery author come in and read to the kids and then the kids all went around the store to find clues. They had a lot of fun with that.
Q: Is the name going to be one of the changes? Rename it in your own image?
A: Name stays. People know it, it’s a good name.