James Conrad, former co-owner of Woodstock Wool Company, has purchased the building on Tinker Street that houses the Golden Notebook Bookstore, along with 50 percent of the business. He has become an equal partner with Jackie Kellachan, who has owned the store since 2010. Conrad, a Woodstock resident, brings experience in retail, marketing, magazine publishing, and writing, as well as a love for bookstores.
“When Jackie bought the store,” said Conrad, “I was intensely jealous,” but Woodstock Wool was in the process of shutting down after the explosive rise in competition when the knitting craze took off. Right now, he said, is an ideal time to buy, with independent bookstores on the rise as ebook sales level out or drop, and the big box bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble, close at a rapid clip.
“A store has to be the right size for the community,” pointed out Kellachan. “And Ann Patchett just had an article in the Washington Post about the importance of ‘handselling’ — how bookstore owners like talking to customers about the books they like. Certainly our employees, Gretchen, Quentin, and Gaela, love to talk about books.”
Also, said Conrad, the store’s location in the heart of Woodstock is unbeatable.
His work experience includes two years managing a bookstore in Chicago right out of college, followed by enrollment in Columbia University for a Masters in poetry. Needing work that would pay the rent, he found a job in magazine publishing as a designer and art director. Although he didn’t have an art background, “you’re designing words, and editors respond to that. They like it if you’ve read the piece and understand it and can design something that relates to it.”
In the nineties, he and his then partner came to Woodstock and opened the wool store in the former post office. After the store’s eight-year run, Conrad was hired by Lyon Brand, a 100-year-old family company, to open wool stores in Manhattan and Albany. Once those shops were up and running.
Conrad was relaxing in Woodstock, considering his next move, when he heard the Golden Notebook was up for sale.
“I was only selling the building,” said Kellachan, “but I didn’t want a landlord who didn’t care about the business and might sell the property out from under me.”
“And I didn’t want to just buy the building,” said Conrad, whose novel, Making Love to the Minor Poets of Chicago, was published by St. Martins Press in 2001.
“It was so hard to imagine what a partner would look like,” Kellachan admitted, “and James had the combination of variables that would work. The reality is that any bookstore has to extend itself beyond the store. Our philosophy is to be in the community as much as possible. And it’s a lot of work.”
No major changes are planned for the near future. “We want to keep doing more outreach,” said Kellachan, “and we’ve been deepening our work with schools. Last year we grew our book fair business, which now includes Kingston.”
The weekend of May 2 and 3 will be full of events sponsored by the Golden Notebook, including readings by spiritual writer Clark Strand and memoirist Alice Eve Cohen on Saturday and a panel discussion on fiction writing on Sunday. Saturday’s book fair at the Woodstock Day School is open to the public and takes place in the school gymnasium, which is decorated according to a top-secret theme that changes each year. “It’s always wonderful,” noted Kellachan. “It’s a combination art installation, Broadway show, and book fair.”
Woodstock has been referred to as “the biggest small town in America.” Kellachan said, “We want the Golden Notebook to be the biggest small bookstore in America.”
Visit the Golden Notebook at 29 Tinker Street in Woodstock, and see their website at https://goldennotebook.com. The Woodstock Day School book fair runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at 1430 Glasco Turnpike, Saugerties. Saturday, May 2, will also include readings by Clark Strand–7 p.m. on at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock–and Alice Eve Cohen, 4 p.m. at the bookstore. Sunday’s panel discussion, “Writing Fiction Today–Literary vs. Genre Fiction: Real Distinction or No Difference at All?” will feature authors Jenny Milchman, Alison Gaylin, Elizabeth Brundage, and Peter Golden, 1 p.m. at the bookstore.