Bookstore owners reach the final chapter
SCHENECTADY Opening a box of new books was like opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Janet Hutchison would run around to her staff and press one of the new books into their hands.
“You’ve got to read this one,” she’d say. “This is so fun.”
Usually it was a children’s book. They’re the only ones she ever had time to read all the way through in a normal day as owner and operator of the Open Door Bookstore. Soon, she’ll have time for something a little longer.
After 30 years at the beloved bookstore in the heart of downtown Schenectady, the owners have announced they will retire and sell the business at 128 Jay St. that has attracted a loyal customer base.
Janet Hutchison and her husband, John, have already met with a few potential buyers.
“It’s been in the back of my mind for a while,” she said. “I’ve always pictured that I’d find the perfect person to buy the business and I would continue to be involved in an advisory capacity if they wanted me to.”
Hutchison, 67, remembers being immediately intrigued when the Open Door first opened its doors on the Jay Street corridor more than four decades ago. Back then it had only children’s books, and occupied less than a quarter of the space the entire operation does now.
Children’s books were a first love of sorts for Hutchison. “Alice in Wonderland” was one of her favorites as a young child. And she can still recall the car trips when her grandmother read books out loud for her to hear from the backseat. Eventually, Hutchison’s grandmother would tire of reciting the same book over and over again, and demand they find another one.
“I was fortunate in that I was always read to as a child,” she said. “But it was really about the kids who stopped by the library after school to tell me about what they had just read.”
She went to college to be a teacher, but found her true calling while earning her master’s degree in library science from Syracuse University. The public library had a partnership with the university to take on interns, and Hutchison took advantage of it.
“I had wonderful, wonderful kids who came to the library after school and loved reading and talking about their favorite kids’ books,” she recalled.
But owning a bookstore still wasn’t a part of her plan. She would work at a library.
The Schenectady County Public Library put her in charge of its children’s room in 1970, one year before the Open Door arrived in town. A few years into the job, Hutchison had kids and moved down to working part time at the library. All the while, she watched as “one perfect job after another” was eliminated there through attrition.
“I thought, you know, I really want to do something else with my life,” she recalled. “I don’t want to sit here waiting for the perfect job to land in my lap.”
So in 1982 she called the Open Door, whose owner Betty Fleming was happy to have her. As a personnel manager, Hutchison was in charge of many organizational aspects of running an ever-expanding bookstore.
The Open Door Bookstore began in half of the space that is currently its adjacent gift gallery. Today, it encompasses 3,000 square feet and offers more than just children’s books. It has a full adult section, reference books, cookbooks, bargain books and more. Its gift shop has jewelry, scarves, toys, puzzles, games, greeting cards and other specialty items.
When Fleming decided to sell in 1992, she wanted Hutchison to have the first go at it. So did Hutchison.
In that first year as owner, Hutchison remodeled the place to make better use of space. The Jay Street marketplace was growing, but downtown Schenectady was hardly what it is now.
The Hutchisons stuck with the bookstore through the city’s many ebbs and flows — through population decline, job losses and through the years when no one was sure Schenectady would recover from its manufacturing heyday.
The Open Door thrived. It has 25 employees and a rewards program that boasts more than 7,500 members.
But the last decade has roiled nearly every business in books or publishing. Big box chain stores expanded. Electronic readers like Nook and Kindle arrived. Amazon “gobbled up” small businesses and publishers.
“There are some repercussions for the future of literature that worries me a little bit,” said Hutchison on Thursday.
She sat in the back room of the Open Door, a narrow space lined on one side with a long desk and on the other side with stacks and stacks of books. It looks quite lived in, and it’s here that Hutchison does her work.
She’ll miss the local authors she’s met along the way, the staff she describes as “talented and very dedicated” and, of course, the customers she watched practically grow up over the years. Those customers now bring their own children to the store.
“It’s never far from your mind,” said Hutchison, of the bookstore. “When you go home at night, you’re still thinking about it. You’re still looking for the next best book title or thinking of new ideas.”
Anyone interested in buying the Open Door Bookstore can contact Janet or John at firstname.lastname@example.org.