Bennett’s Books Launches Community Supported Bookstore Program
If you didn’t know it was there, you just might miss it, the little secondhand independent bookstore tucked between Deep River Elementary School and Cumberland Farms, where Main Street, River Street, and Elm Street all meet. But Bennett’s Books, having just celebrated its two year anniversary at the beginning of December, is launching a new program that owner Colin Bennett hopes will help to bring more people in, and bolster a community of active readers in Deep River and the tri-town area: the Community Supported Bookstore Program (CSB).
The idea for having the CSB came from Bennett observing the success of similar models used by farms. As he believes that bookstores can become integral parts of a community, much as farms are, he saw this as a way to involve people and encourage and reward them for being involved in the community in a different way.
“Our Community Supported Bookstore program is the only such program in Connecticut, in fact, as far as we know, it is one of only three in the entire country,” said Bennett, “and the other two are in California and have a different model. Our aim, beyond just providing books, is to be, a place where people can come, relax, find great books, and maybe even make new friends – the CSB will ensure that we can continue to do that.”
“People can become members at different levels, and each level includes different benefits,” said Bennett. “Each level is named after a female literary heroine, and we’ve tried to make sure that the benefits members receive are worth the cost.”
There is a $25 kids membership that grants members two free children’s books a month. The other membership offers range from the Eowyn, where for $50 a year one can receive 10 percent off all books, one free book a month, and a $10 gift certificate, up to the Katniss, where $300 a year grants the member 25 percent off all books, three free books a month, and a $50 gift certificate. All membership levels include access to exclusive member events. There is even a secret level, the Hermione—but according to Bennett the details of that specific membership are protected under the Statute of Secrecy, and those interested need to inquire directly.
The goal of the CSB is two-fold: to provide the store with further financial security, but more importantly to Bennett, to provide a space in which to promote affordable literacy and really expand upon the idea of being a community focused bookstore. Everything Bennett sells is $10 or less, with most items currently coming in at $5 or less; about 40 percent of the stock Bennett started with was his own which he had been collecting for years with the idea of one day creating this space—the vast majority of the rest of what is available comes from community donations, which allow the store to survive.
“I’ve always loved books and reading,” said Bennett. “I truly believe that bookstores make communities better places. I see the bookstore as community hub, but space can be a limiting factor to seeing that through.”
Fortunately, for the time being, the store has access to a second space in the building just out front, once a jewelers, but now the Steve Milton Memorial Community Room, named after the late realtor and original landlord for the bookstore, who passed away earlier this year. This space will be used to host different events ranging from trivia nights and book groups, to hosting community conversations on topics related to social activism, a cause also important to Bennett.
“When I opened the store, someone I respect gave me the advice: don’t be political,” said Bennett. “And I did that until recently. But in the current climate and seeing the direction of the country, I can’t do that anymore.”
“We are really trying to establish that the bookstore is a safe space for historically marginalized groups,” continued Bennett. “It’s political but not politicized. And we sell to everyone—it’s not about censorship, we carry something for everyone. But we want to make clear that this is a space where everyone will be welcome, and treated with respect.”
To say they carry something for everyone is an understatement. The three rooms are creatively shelved with books stacked everywhere to maximize space, and vaguely organized into sections of fiction, nonfiction, romance, young adult cookbooks, and everything in between. Cozy armchairs and blankets are tucked into nooks and corners so visitors can browse leisurely and comfortably, and there is even a whimsical Christmas tree built out of books near the children’s books.
Dan Clayton of Chester has been coming to Bennett’s Books for a year or two now, especially appreciative of the affordable book prices; he used to go up to the Book Barn in Lyme.
“Colin [Bennett] is a really great guy—he helped me to track down this book on wine about a week ago, really went out of his way,” said Clayton.
“It is a labor of love,” said Bennet. “It’s a constant work in progress, it’s never quite organized, it’s a challenge to get the word out to people, and there is never enough time—I work other jobs to be able to have the bookstore. But we get a lot of positive responses when people walk in the door. We just really operate under that impetus of encouraging reading, and wanting to get people involved in different ways.”
Currently, in addition to collecting donations of books, Bennett is also collecting Boxtops for Education from people who might not have another way to donate these to the local schools, and is also collecting donations for Shoreline Soup Kitchen. These donation efforts also benefit customers who receive a discount off of their purchases based on the store’s different giving initiatives.
“We have to reach a certain level of success to run a business, but beyond that success I would like to be able to give back to the community, maybe in the form of member-voted initiatives,” said Bennett. “I would like to get to a point where profits over what are needed to keep the bookstore running can be given to social justice organizations or to community organizations—I would love to sponsor a little league team.”
“I can’t remember who said it, but there is an order of needs, and it is food, water, shelter, books,” said Bennett. “Books and reading are a part of humanity that gives people hope, feeds imagination and knowledge. It looks passive but reading is such an active experience, and a great way to bond with people and build a community.”
Full details of the membership levels, as well as details of Bennett’s efforts to give back to the community and serve as a community-focused bookstore are available at www.bennettsbookstore.com. Those who wish to become members can contact the bookstore by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by 171 Main Street, Deep River. The store is open Wednesday through Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed Monday and Tuesday