Golden Notebook celebrates 40th anniversary

James Conrad and Jackie Kellachan. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

When Jackie Kellachan and James Conrad, the proprietors of the Golden Notebook, were considering how to celebrate the Woodstock bookstore’s 40th anniversary, Conrad was inspired to call HarperCollins, the publisher of the Doris Lessing novel the store was named after. “I said, ‘You need to send us 40 copies of The Golden Notebook to give away because we’ve been advertising your book for 40 years.’ In literally half an hour, they called back and said they would send us the books.”

On Saturday, September 15, the store will hold an anniversary party from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., with cake, balloons, and a raffle. The first 40 customers who walk in that day and ask for the feminist classic The Golden Notebook will receive a free copy in return for holding up their phone and following the store on Instagram, as well as posing for a photo that will be posted with thanks to HarperCollins.

In addition, all sales will feature a 20 percent discount. For the party, customers are invited to bake a cake, frosted in the pattern of a favorite book cover. The concept is borrowed from the annual Woodstock Day School book fair, where the store always has a table. 

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“Forty is a long time in bookstore years,” said Conrad, “considering what has happened to bookstores since the 90s.”

Kellachan held up an article from the New York Times, in which a Yale-educated lawyer asserts that it’s time to rethink anti-trust laws with regard to Amazon.com, which started by selling books and is now taking chunks of market share for goods from clothing to appliances. “People don’t see how it has eroded their communities,” said Kellachan. “People come in and say, ‘My town used to have a store like this.’”

Many bookstores fought back and appealed to their customers for support, emphasizing the community nature of a store. “Hardware stores and others don’t know what’s hitting them yet,” said Conrad. “This store was almost a casualty.”

Challenges from the Internet and giant bookstore chains were far in the future in 1978, when Ellen Shapiro, who had been waiting tables at the Threepenny Restaurant, inquired about renting a storefront on Tinker Street, with the idea of starting a bookstore. Barry Samuels, a former college friend from their years at Rutgers University, was in town visiting his brother, and Samuels jumped on board. Assisted by legendary publisher Betty Ballantine and supported by a Small Business Administration Loan, the pair renovated and stocked the store. 

The community-oriented, hands-on service developed by Samuels and Shapiro has not changed over the years. “People talk to each other here,” said Kellachan. “At the register, there are discussions about books. Someone will ask, ‘What was that book you were talking about with that customer?”

The Golden Notebook was nominated for the Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year Award in 2003. At its height, the store included its own Golden Notebook Press, The Golden Notebook Children’s Store, and a gift store, The Golden Bough. But by 2010, the bookselling scene had changed. Online sales of physical books at or below cost, as well as the growth of e-books, had begun to erode the revenues of most brick-and-mortar bookstores. Almost two-thirds of independents had closed since 2001. Even Barnes and Noble, which had started the shift of business away from independents, was declining. 

On September 6, 2010, after 32 years in business, Shapiro and Samuels closed their doors. No one had stepped forward to buy the store until Kellachan and her then husband, Paul McMenemy, started eleventh-hour negotiations with the owners, just weeks before the closing. After a career in public health, Kellachan was happy to give up the commute to Albany and focus on running a bookstore, while raising her three children.

At the time, Conrad had also spoken with Samuels and Shapiro but wasn’t in a financial position to buy the store. He recalled his envy when he read about the purchase while at his job as art director for a magazine in New Jersey. Then in 2015, when he had the opportunity and the means to purchase the building, which was up for sale, he also asked to buy 50 percent of the business. Conrad and Kellachan are now equal partners. “Bookstores are super-labor-intensive,” said Kellachan. With his background in design, Conrad creates newsletters, bookmarks, t-shirts, bags, and webpages. Kellachan arranges the author readings held in the shop’s upstairs room or at nearby venues, and she works the school book fairs. They both order books, with the help of Gaela Pearson, who has worked in the store since 1989 and specializes in children’s books. 

“We both carry boxes of books a lot of the time,” said Conrad. “We shelve books, shovel snow.”

“I love to work the register,” said Kellachan. “And we have amazing staff. Everyone has their own particular strength. Gaela reads a ton, not only children’s stuff but also front-list fiction. I enjoy nonfiction. James and Gretchen know poetry so well.” Gretchen Primack, who has been with the store since 2011, is also familiar with books on veganism and environmental issues.

Since 2010, the store has donated $80,000 to PTAs and school libraries, which receive 20% of the revenue from school book fairs. “We’re looking for a way to encourage kids who want to be writers or work in publishing,” Kellachan said. “We want to try to scholarship them into a summer program or something connected to going to college. We’ve had amazing teens who have worked here a few hours a week, and writing is a huge part of their life.”

The winter will see a period of renovation. The building needs structural work, and they will take the opportunity to improve the flow of the sales floor as well. “When we reopen after construction,” Kellachan said, “we’ll still be celebrating, all the way into summer and the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.”

The Golden Notebook will hold a 40th anniversary party on Saturday, September 15, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The store is located at 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Visit their website at
https://goldennotebook.indielite.org.

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