More than two years after the gas leak of September 2018 that shuttered many Andover businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced these businesses to close their doors or adopt preventative measures against the virus as their bottom lines struggle. One such business is the Andover Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in the nation. According to “The Eagle Tribune,” if revenue does not increase, owner John Hugo ’98 might decide to close the bookstore in January or February of this year.
“I would be misinformed if I thought I were sure that [the Andover Bookstore] could stick around for another bunch of years, but we keep trying. I grew up in the business. I love the product. I love the books. I work two other jobs to keep the store alive, so I haven’t given up yet. If I didn’t adore the product and love the history of the family, I probably would have tossed in the towel, because there’s not any money there at the moment, but I still love the product, and I like the history of the store. That’s why I keep fighting for it,” said Hugo in an interview with The Phillipian.
Founded in 1809, the Andover Bookstore was established to provide Andover students with textbooks, a partnership that stopped recently when Andover converted their textbooks to an online model, according to Hugo and the bookstore’s website. When Andover students previously bought textbooks from the bookstore, the school accounted for a quarter of its revenue, according to a 2007 interview in The Phillipian. Currently, not many student customers frequent the bookstore, save for a few yearly bookworms.
“I graduated from [Andover] as well, so there’s not a lot of time generally for pleasure reading. We typically have three to five students that are real book readers, and they need other books and they would become customers during their four years and we would know them by name and face, and that still continues, but it’s a smaller amount,” said Hugo.
When the bookstore closed on March 16, 2020, along with it went the personal customer service that the Andover Bookstore prides itself on. Unable to open for several weeks, the Andover Bookstore struggled financially and, with temporary government help, had to become innovative in designing new ways to generate revenue.
“We went to curbside and home delivery and pivoted our website… to use a kind of a third-party dropshipper. That helped us a bit, so that we could get more books shipping directly from stores while we weren’t open… but we lost a lot of business… There were some government programs. The [Paycheck Protection Program], which is helpful, but that was meant to be an eight-week stopgap,” said Hugo.
Another difficulty the Andover Bookstore faces is competition with Amazon. Although this competition has been ongoing since Amazon’s establishment in 1999, Amazon’s lower prices and contactless delivery have appealed to shoppers during the pandemic especially. However, Hugo noted that the Andover Bookstore benefited when Amazon’s delivery slowed during the holiday season.
“In some ways we had a little bit of a bump in business because, for the heavy Amazon user, their shipping went out the door for a while, and is still pretty much out the door. People had gotten used to Prime [two-day delivery] and then Prime [one-day delivery], and it was very consistent and very hard to compete with,” said Hugo.
Although faced with the challenges presented by Amazon, loss of business, and the pandemic, the Andover Bookstore found assistance from Andover alumni and other contributors. Former students who were not close enough to the store for book deliveries contributed by donating to the store’s GoFundMe page, which has raised over 17,000 dollars out of its goal of 125,000 dollars since March 16, 2020.
“We did have quite a few former students that had fond memories that did some GoFundMe stuff. They’re not close enough to do orders, but we did have quite a few people reach out… and that was very helpful. People have a lot of heart, and bookstores do have that share. The only trick is you have to keep it going. That’s what I remind people. You can have a great bump from an article, but you have to keep coming back,” said Hugo.
While on campus in years past, many Andover students went into downtown Andover after school and shopped at the restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and shops on Main Street. However, boarding students on campus in the fall were prohibited from going downtown. According to Danielle Sarno ’23, the Andover Bookstore is just one part of what makes downtown Andover feel like home for many students.
“My experience [at the Andover Bookstore] was good. I didn’t check out a book, but the ladies there were helpful in trying to help me find what I was interested in. What’s important about downtown Andover to me is the sense of home it has given me. Just going to [Andover] for two years, I have experienced a lot with friends and family, and I feel downtown Andover holds a lot of special memories for me,” said Sarno.
In 2019, the Andover Bookstore turned 210 years old and became the oldest indie bookstore in the nation, according to “The Eagle Tribune.” With the help of local and distant contributors, the Andover Bookstore remains open through the pandemic. However, the store is not sure how long it can stay open. Hugo urged for the continued support of small local businesses.
Hugo said, “People love the idea of a bookstore… but we have poor wallet share, as in they don’t open the wallet or the purse to come down and shop all the time… It’s just that you have to make choices, and if you want the bookstore or any other small business in Andover or your town, wherever you’re from, to stay in business, you have to support them.”