Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Site Search
   Search Metroland.Net
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 Columns & Opinions
   Looking Up
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Tech Life
   The Over-30 Club
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
Photo: Alicia Solsman

Story Time

Open Door Bookstore owner Janet Hutchison tells the tale of running an independent business in Schenectady

By Josh Potter

In downtown Schenectady, the intersection of State and Jay streets is affectionately known as “Ground Zero.” This is the pulse point at which Schenectady’s economic and cultural health might most clearly be divined. After a couple of decades of disrepair, the intersection now bustles with cars and pedestrians heading to Proctors, Movie Land, the new Bomber’s Burrito Bar, or any number of businesses that have begun returning to the area. One block away, Open Door Bookstore proprietor Janet Hutchison has borne witness to this change for the last 26 years. As an independent retailer, bookseller, and board member of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. and Metroplex Authority, she has weathered uncertainty in the local economy and the bookselling world at-large en route to becoming a prime mover in both.

Thirty years ago, Hutchison, a native of California, was working as a children’s librarian at the Schenectady County Public Library when she befriended Betty Fleming, who had opened the Open Door as a bookstore specializing in children’s literature. Her familiarity with the material allowed her to make the easy transition to bookselling in 1983, and she managed the store until 1992, when she and her husband bought the store from Fleming.

“The basics behind what’s important in a book store are the same things that are important in a library,” Hutchison says. “You’re trying to match people with books. It’s the same process of talking with them about what they’ve read and what their interest is.”

At a children’s bookstore, though, this exchange happens with parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles, as often as it does with a child, so the store’s decision to expand its catalog was a natural one. When a neighboring paint store decided to relocate in the ’80s, the Open Door began a series of expansions. Today, the store sells art, jewelry and toys, in addition to literature of all stripes. “It’s worked well over the years,” she says, “because customers can come and they can work through their gift list, getting a nice piece of jewelry or pottery. We have a lot of toys that are obvious accompaniments to books. Lots of [children’s books] have toy characters—stuffed animals and stuff—that are meant to go with the book.” Additionally, the store works with local schools and teachers to make sure they keep up on the latest in children’s literature.

This approach tends to distinguish the Open Door from other independent bookstores, which are, already, an increasingly rare species. Hutchison says she refuses to utter the names of the big corporate booksellers that are responsible for the deaths of so many small bookstores, but she readily offers reasons for why her store hasn’t suffered a similar fate.

“It isn’t any different than it was 20 years ago. People come to an independent bookstore because of the personalized service they get, and because they’re dealing with staff that get to know them, that read, and know a lot about books. A connection develops. You begin to learn that a certain customer enjoys a certain kind of writing, and then you’re able to say, ‘hey, there’s a brand new book by your favorite author right over here.’ ” As a result, she has customers that come from as far away as Schoharie and the southern Adirondacks who have, in turn, produced successive generations of readers.

She’ll be the first to admit, though, that it isn’t just good service that has allowed her business to survive a trying economy. “[Consumers] are beginning to realize that by supporting their locally owned businesses they are supporting their community and local economy as opposed to sending their spending dollars to some corporate headquarters that doesn’t care about where they live. The consciousness has been raised about what all this means, with movements like Local First. And that’s wonderful.”

The effect of this philosophy, she says, coupled with the creation of the DSIC and BID, has yielded tangible results for the whole downtown area. “The 400 block of State has been completely redone and the other side is almost complete. The facades are redone and everything is almost reoccupied. The goal is to gradually extend all that so everything down to the community college will be occupied and have attractive, viable, vibrant businesses.”

Standing at Ground Zero, this goal doesn’t seem out of reach. “Retailers,” she says, “tend to be optimistic people” and, looking forward, Hutchison is confident about the direction the Open Door is heading. “I went to library school way back in the ’70s when Marshall McLuhan was on his kick about media. That was 35 years ago and people are still reading books.” As for the prospect of e-book technology cutting into her business: “It doesn’t have that cozy, fuzzy feeling to it. The influence of a parent sharing a story with their children is just not going to be the same holding a Kindle.

“I’ve been here long enough that I have young people with children who look around and say, ‘I grew up in this store.’ That’s what’s really been the distinguishing factor in a locally owned independent store. It’s the part I love the most.”

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.