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Article Published December 8, 2020

Breakwater Books Takes Center Stage in International AmEx Ad

By Jesse Williams/

This holiday season more than ever, people are recognizing the power, the importance, and the need for small businesses. Last week, people across the world got to see a glimpse of what that looks like in Guilford, as Breakwater Books and its owners, Richard Parent and Paul Listro, were featured prominently in a series of ads by American Express.

The ad is part of American Express’s international Shop Small campaign, which sought to highlight diversity and the contributions of small business owners ahead of a uniquely difficult holiday season.

The ad, which runs in versions ranging from 15 seconds to a full minute, was filmed in early November and debuted over Thanksgiving weekend. Listro said Breakwater showed up on the company’s radar after a woman involved in the campaign read about them in local news coverage.

“Her parents actually live [in Guilford],” Listro said. “And she got wind of us—her parents love the store...and she just called us cold, and told us what it was all about.”

Listro said he and Parent, who purchased Breakwater Books together a little over a year ago after leaving their media careers in New York, were ecstatic to have the store featured so prominently and lifted up as an example of the kind of positive impact small businesses can have on a community.

The reaction from their customers after the commercial aired entirely validated that Breakwater is just that kind of place, according to Listro.

“The next day....everyone was pouring in, just joking, ‘We came to see the celebrities,’” Listro said, laughing.

He and Parent were never actually told when the ad would first air, Listro said. When it debuted on Thanksgiving Day, they were watching a football game with family members.

“We’re watching the Dallas game with my family, and then all the sudden there we were on television,” Listro said.

The ad has since aired on all three major networks, often during primetime, according to Listro. Customers from as far away as California have reached out to express their surprise or congratulations, according to Listro.

Filming and putting the ad together was no amateur process, either, with about 20 people involved in the shoot, including professional set decorators and actors, along with a wardrobe for him and Parent chosen by the director, Listro said.

Breakwater got to keep the set decorations—just one of many small perks of being part of a big-time national ad campaign, according to Listro, and part of what he described as an extremely fulfilling and respectful collaboration with the film crew and company.

Parent, who was a professional actor early in his life, ended up being featured more prominently, which Listro joked was a foregone conclusion.

“We’ll see if a casting director comes by and tries to cast us in anything else,” Listro said with a laugh.

Parent said one of the things he was very happy about was that in Breakwater’s spot, everyone is wearing masks—something that he said will serve as a fascinating image for posterity, but more important, sets a good example for the public as safety precautions remain vitally important during the holiday season.

“I was happy that we were part of [an ad] that reflected what’s really happening,” he said.

But more than just grabbing a quick 15 minutes of fame for themselves or their store, Listro and Parent both said the longer-lasting, more important, and more personal effect of being featured in the campaign is how it highlights what they wanted to be a part of when they left New York.

“It just bookmarks this whole journey,” Listro said. “Personally, it just kind of feels like, ‘Wow, we did something, and now look—a year later we’re on a television commercial’ and the people in this town, what they saw first was, ‘Wow, that’s downtown Guilford, that’s our bookstore.’”

From a purely business standpoint, Parent said Breakwater has seen a significant increase in out-of-state orders since the ad aired, with American Express tagging the store in its social media, and the name featured prominently in the ad. Having both worked for years in the much more high-profile world of New York City, Listro and Parent both said it was humorous to suddenly garner international attention after coming to Guilford.

“The joke is, who knew we had to buy a little bookstore in rural Connecticut to become famous?” Listro said.

The ad in 15, 30, and 60 second versions can be viewed on the American Express YouTube channel at