Here at MUF, we love celebrating great independent bookstores (read our spotlights on Once Upon a Time, Fountainhead Bookstore and more). Continuing the tradition, we turn today to Oblong Books & Music in Upstate New York. Suzanna Hermans, Oblong’s co-owner and manager of the Rhinebeck store, talks to Andrea Pyros about the state of the publishing industry, her favorite new middle grade books and how she sees Oblong’s role in the community.
Mixed-Up Files: Can you tell us the history of Oblong and what led you to launch a second store?
Suzanna Hermans: Our store first opened in Millerton, NY in 1975 in a very tiny storefront. Over the years we expanded into the space we now occupy, in two buildings with three floors of books. In 2001 we were approached by a landlord doing some property development in Rhinebeck, and we were able to design our store from scratch; everything from the carpet to the windows. We opened that second store in September 2001, and expanded it in 2011.
SH: All of the above! We think of our store as a place where people can discover new ideas and gather to discuss them and meet like-minded folks. All are welcome.
MUF: Do your two stores have different personalities? Do you order different titles for them, or generally you’re carrying the same books and music at both locations?
SH: Though the stores’ stock is almost identical, they have very different personalities. Millerton is sprawling over three floors, with lots of nooks and crannies and crooked wood floors and built-in bookcases. Rhinebeck is all on one level, carpeted, and with matching fixtures. We like to think we have the best of both worlds: a quirky old bookstore and a shiny new one.
SH: In 2015 we had over 120 author events, so they are a big part of what we do. We have such a wonderful rich wealth of local authors, and also bring in nationally touring authors, as well as many authors from New York City since we are a reasonably short train ride away. When choosing which events to book, we look mostly at the author’s connections to our local area, as well as the subject matter. Is it something our customers are interested in and a genre that sells well for us?
MUF: How do you feel about the state of the publishing industry and the state of independent booksellers? Or do you feel hopeful about where we’re at and where we’re headed?
SH: This is a very exciting time to be an independent bookseller. We survived Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and ebooks and in recent years sales have been extremely strong. I think there will be a renaissance of more small stores opening as the economy rebounds and more people realize what a bookstore can bring to a community.
SH: Middle-grade was one of our strongest growth categories in 2015! We adore middle grade books. I recently loved The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Alex Gino’s George.