When David and Ann LeBreton reflect on their 10 years as owners of Edgartown Books, the front porch of the Main street bookstore looms large.
“We’ve had some amazing experiences,” Mrs. LeBreton said. While they had the “privilege and honor” of porch appearances and signings by famous authors, there were also “some who had just written their first book and were nervous. And we’d sit on the porch with them, and we’d watch all of Main street trot back and forth on these beautiful days, under the awning, and there’s nothing that could ever replace that, as far as we’re concerned.
“We’ve had 10 glorious, wonderful, fun-filled years.”
Last week, the couple announced their plans to rent out the space on Edgartown’s Main street that has housed their bookstore, signaling the end of their adventure in bookselling.
“It was just the time,” Mr. LeBreton said of the decision to close the shop, probably in May. The couple, who are in their early 60s and also have a home in Dedham, tend to do things in 10-year stretches, he said, and he hopes to spend time with his 92-year-old mother.
The experience has resulted in “friends and memories of a lifetime,” Mr. LeBreton said. “It’s been fun, and we’ll miss it tremendously.”
The couple focuses on many happy memories: their staff and regular customers, reading advance copies of books and appearances by legendary authors, like Art Buchwald. Mr. LeBreton recalled a young Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), whom he remembered as an intern at Kirkus Reviews (which Mr. LeBreton once owned), “quaking” with nerves during his appearance.
However, “It’ll be nice to have our summers back,” Mrs. LeBreton said.
For the last decade, those summers have been “very busy, happily.” Like other seasonal businesses, “The summers were huge,” Mr. LeBreton said, “and the shoulder [seasons] are a little lighter.” The store has naturally felt the effects of the troubled economy, he said, but the past two years “have inched back up a bit.”
The couple was optimistic when it came to the future of Island businesses, and bookstores in general. “Here on this Island, here on the Vineyard, people still want the experience,” Mrs. LeBreton said. “When our customers come in here, they go and they’ll pick-up a book, and they’ll open it up, and read about the author, and where the author’s from.
“There’s nothing that will take the place of coming in a store and picking up your book and holding it, and looking at the wall, the staff picks, and being in that moment.”
Some customers make a beeline to the books in the staff-pick section, even becoming reliant on guidance from particular employees.
Mr. LeBreton recalled one customer who was “crushed” last summer when he came to stock up on books during his trip to the Vineyard, only to find that his favorite employee was out that day.
The LeBretons praised their staff of “well-read, interesting, capable people who are there for the customers.” “They’re everything to us,” Mrs. LeBreton said. Staffing peaks at about 10 people in the busy summer season, and dwindles to two or three during the slow winter season.
The LeBretons now count Island authors like Linda Fairstein, Geraldine Brooks and Tony Horwitz as friends, and said they have a loyal group of regular customers. In the days following the news that they intend to close, the couple has received well-wishes and laments from those friends and customers on and off the Island. A common message has been, “‘We love you, we understand, but aaah! How could you?’” Mr. LeBreton said.
When the LeBretons purchased the operation, they became part of the Edgartown bookstore tradition: they took over the Bickerton and Ripley bookstore that was housed in the yellow house on Main street for about 20 years. The LeBretons moved the business down Main street to their current location, a space adorned with artwork by Linda Carnegie: an Owl and the Pussycat mural in the children’s area, and book genres and books painted on the stairs.
The bookstore will be open for its regular winter schedule starting in February, Mr. LeBreton said, and unless someone steps in, he estimated the store would be cleared out by May to make way for something else.
There is a chance that Edgartown will be without a bookstore for the first time in decades, but the LeBretons were clear that they hope that won’t happen.
“We would love if someone came in and wanted to keep the bookstore operation going,” Mr. LeBreton said. “It’s all right here, it’s ready to go.” The couple said they’ve had a few inquiries about the space, including someone interested in opening a restaurant and a few “book people.”
Maggie White, president of the Edgartown Board of Trade, said the bookstore was “an outstanding tenant” in the Edgartown business community. With a bookstore in Edgartown “ever since I can remember,” she said, the town would hope to keep the same mix of businesses.
A decade ago, the LeBretons bought the bookstore thinking “this might be a nice opportunity for us to work together and to do something that we both love, which involved books, which was something that we both were very passionate about,” Mrs. LeBreton said. She said that with a great staff and a great location, it didn’t matter that they didn’t have bookselling backgrounds.
Keeping a bookstore in town is “our absolute wish,” said Mrs. LeBreton. “In a perfect world that would be the case. Because you know, we live in Edgartown and we love reading.”
“We’re going to demand a huge discount on books,” Mr. LeBreton deadpanned.
The other book store on the Island, Bunch of Grapes, is located on Main street in Vineyard Haven. “There is definitely room for two bookstores on this island, absolutely,” Mr. LeBreton said.
The couple said they’ve never been concerned about the Island supporting two thriving book businesses. “We all know what it’s like to get from town to town in the middle of the summer. I can’t imagine not having at least two bookstores on this Island,” Mrs. LeBreton said.
Most of all, as devoted readers, owning a bookstore has been like “a kid in a candy store,” Mr. LeBreton said.
“I’ve always been an avid reader. It’s like my security blanket,” Mrs. LeBreton said. “If I don’t have at least three books on my bedside table, I kind of panic . . . . It’s like no food, no milk in the ice box for me.”
Author Norman Bridwell has appeared at the store, as has his famous creation, Clifford the Big Red Dog: Mr. LeBreton once dressed up as the uniquely-colored canine.
“We won’t tell our young readers, but he put the suit on one summer. And it was without a doubt one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” said Mrs. LeBreton.