Dan and I recently unearthed a 2003 photo of Gov. John Rowland’s visit to our new shop. He was on a downtown campaign tour to promote Republican mayoral candidate Mark Forte, a longtime friend of ours. When Governor mentioned that his wife, Patty, had written a children’s book, “Marvelous Max the Mansion Mouse,” I decided to host a booksigning in time for the Christmas buying season.
We looked forward to the publicity her appearance would afford but it turned out to have afforded more attention than we anticipated.
Prior to the signing the press began questioning some of the Governor’s expenditures, citing that work done for his private benefit was performed at the state’s expense. Adding fuel to the fire, Patty Rowland rebuked the press in writing by way of a Christmas poem. On the morning she was to appear at John Bale I received an early morning call from John Murray who publishes the Waterbury Observer.
“I don’t think she’ll show,” he told me. I waited to see what would happen and, a few minutes before the signing was scheduled to begin, Patty and her driver showed up. When the press arrived I kept them at bay. As a guest of the bookstore, she was there to do one thing–sign books. Good manners dictated her visit with us should be civilized and focused. I insisted the press wait outside. The book was well received and we quickly ran through two cartons of copies.
When the signing was done, she retired to our second floor and called her husband. A few minutes later Patty asked if she could invite the reporters for a private interview.
From then it was a steady stream of news reports that culminated in the Governor’s incarceration.
Ten years later we seem to be back where we started. I wonder if Gov. Rowland will write a book about his roller coaster career and if we’ll have another Rowland signing.
In the interim years our paths continue to cross with regard to economic development. Rowland served as a development director for the Chamber of Commerce while I sat on the board of directors for the Waterbury Development Corp. Helping to make downtown Waterbury thrive once again is dear to Dan’s and my hearts and pocketbook.
When we first decided to open a storefront we chose downtown because, as business moved out, cheap retail space became available. In 1992 used bookstores were common. A guide published at the time showed more than 70 entries. Then two things happened to change that. The Internet opened up a sales portal for books. By listing one’s inventory on Ebay and Amazon, the world became your marketplace. Many booksellers decided to forgo the open shop and concentrate on warehousing their inventory and working from home.
In some instances the choice was made for them. In the case of Mike Polasko who operated the West Hartford Bookshop for many years. A lost lease was the death knell of his shop. With prices rising fast in West Hartford, the landlord saw the opportunity to make a lot more money on his property. Mike was given 30 days to vacate. Moving thousands of books to a new home is no easy task.
For us, buying a building insured that we would have a safe home but people were getting more used to buying online. We didn’t ignore the Internet. Dan began listing books and hiring people to help. Today we have an inventory of 100,000 for sale on a variety of sites including our own johnbalebooks.com. A multitude of shops closed their doors. Those remaining in operation had to rethink their role in the community. Niantic Book Barn is a good example. They have a lovely piece of property that houses a petting zoo, small sheds for specialty books, a garden, and more. It became a destination.
We hoped to do that, too. Being a part of the community is important to us and in the upcoming postings I will share some of the special events we’ve been fortunate enou