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Updated: March 6, 2023 Shop Talk

Q&A: The wonderful world of an independent bookstore

Tidepool Bookshop owners Jo and Huck Truesdell sit in front of a fireplace and shelves of nonfiction books.  Photo | KEVIN KOCZWARA Jo and Huck Truesdell own Tidepool Bookshop.

When Jo and Huck Truesdell retired from their jobs in 2017, they were looking for something to do. The married couple both loved their jobs. For 41 years, Jo taught kindergarten at the Bancroft School in Worcester. Huck worked for Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in land acquisition and the stewardship of wildlife habitat. To them, work was fun, and they missed it.

At the time, Worcester lacked an independent bookstore scene. Tatnuck Bookseller & Sons Inc. in Worcester closed in January of 2006, and the city struggled to find a replacement. Lincoln Plaza still had Barnes and Noble (it would close in 2020), but there has been a void in independent bookstores in the city for years. The Truesdell’s felt they could fill it.

They started by asking for advice, and then they began planning, going to business and bookstore workshops. They sought out advisors. And then they came up with a plan.

A bio box on Jo and Huck Tuesdell
A bio box on Jo and Huck Tuesdell

At the same time, two other Worcester bookstores, Bedlam Book Cafe (opened in 2018) in Crompton Place and Roots & Press, LLC (2019) in Tatnuck, were in the works. All three now form the backbone of a literary scene in Worcester and are part of the Central Massachusetts growing independent bookstore ecosystem.

TidePool Bookshop opened in September 2020 after months of delays thanks to COVID-19. While waiting for the store to be completed, the couple sold books online from their dining room table. Now, two years later, they have a busy store with a growing number of events and an expanding catalog of books.

Why did the two of you decide to open a bookstore? I have been told online that nobody reads anymore.

Huck: Lots of people read. It's not that people don’t read anymore. Bookstores went into decline because of Amazon and the big box stores. They made it really hard on small, independent bookstores. But they have been coming back for the last 10 years because people really appreciate the ability to come into a store like this and see books, pick them up, talk to people about books. It's a different experience than buying online, where if you know exactly what you want to buy, you can go online and just order, and it arrives the next day. That is only one part of the book-buying experience.

Jo: We loved our jobs and working was sort of a fun part of our lives, which maybe sounds funny, but there weren't any book stores. We did wonder if there was a gap we could fill.

You had to delay opening due to the pandemic. What did you do as you waited for the build-out to finish?

Huck: We launched our website, so we could start selling books. We sold books online, and we would deliver locally, mail them, or sometimes walk around to bring them to people’s houses. That was the early days of the pandemic, so kind of crazy. Otherwise, we processed everything in our dining room. We were sort of learning what it was all about.

Jo: In a lot of ways, it was good. It is essentially what we do here when we’re mailing books, so it is really kind of the same thing. It was good because we could learn that part of the business without having to learn both the in-store part as well as the online part at the same time. For old people, gray-haired people, it is better to go step by step.

Were there any bookstores you loved visiting when researching opening your own?

Huck: Each independent book store is different.

Jo: We must have visited 65 book stores. Anywhere we went, we visited. We learned everything from every bookstore we visited. They’re so different from each other. We learned something positive from every single visit. Every book store has something unique and something to offer.

What does it look like going forward?

Jo: We have a pretty good handle on it, and one of the things that happened naturally with the two of us opening is the division of labor. We never really talked about who was going to do what. It happened naturally, and then we employ two wonderful booksellers.

Huck: We’re just going to keep going. We’re not planning any major changes.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Kevin Koczwara.

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