The Golden Notebook

LARB’s Naked Bookseller Program is a collaboration with independent bookstores to help tell their stories and broaden their visibility across the country and around the world. A basic membership to LARB gets you a 10% discount at our participating partner stores through our Naked Bookseller card. By becoming a member, you support both the Los Angeles Review of Books AND independent booksellers. Below is the story of our newest partner in the program, The Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, told in their own words.

Named after original owner Ellen Shapiro’s favorite Doris Lessing novel, The Golden Notebook opened its doors on June 23, 1978. Shapiro and business partner Barry Samuels leased the storefront that had formerly been Joe Forno’s Colonial Pharmacy. Though there were already two bookstores in town – Twine’s and The Juggler – the pair was convinced theirs would be a cut above. Together they took out a Small Business Administration Loan, and with the help of legendary publisher Betty Ballantine renovated and stocked the store.

Legend has it that both Ellen and Barry were inexperienced enough as business people that they had to be shown how to use their new cash register. In those pre-digital days, all inventory was kept on file cards. The owners prided themselves on creating the kind of environment where customers were greeted by name and could talk books for hours with staff members familiar with their tastes. Barry was especially well known for his ability to place just the right book in a customer’s hand. In those days it was common for regular visitors to find books he’d ordered for them on a hunch (though they were under no obligation to buy them.) Over the years, this was the kind of hands-on service that the Golden Notebook grew famous for and ultimately what led to its being nominated for the Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year Award in 2003.

A side view of the store, and a promo done for Neil Gaiman's Hansel and Gretel.

A side view of the store, and a promo done for Neil Gaiman’s Hansel and Gretel.

The Golden Notebook thrived, like many of the best independent bookstores in the country, because of its deep connection to its community. A book can be bought anywhere, but the kind of community of writers, artists, musicians, and iconoclasts that has always existed in Woodstock cannot. At the height of its powers, the store had its own Golden Notebook Press, The Golden Notebook Children’s Store, and a gift store called The Golden Bough next door. Gaela Pearson, who ran the children’s store, and is still the children’s book buyer today, has been with the Golden Notebook for 34 years.

On September 6, 2010, after 32 years of loyal service at the heart of Woodstock’s cultural and commercial scene, Ellen and Barry closed their doors. Though the store had found its niche early on, the publishing world was now a very different place from the one that existed in 1978. Online sales of physical books at or below cost, as well as the rapid growth of e-books, had begun to erode the revenues and futures of most brick-and-mortar bookstores. The independents had seen their ranks thinned by about two-thirds since 2001. Even the big chains were tottering. Both Samuels and Shapiro were ready to move on.

At first, the pair had some difficulty finding a buyer, and the town worried over the loss of its only new and general-interest bookstore. But at the eleventh hour, Jacqueline Kellachan and Paul McMenemy stepped up and entered negotiations with Shapiro and Samuels. Just before their intended Labor Day closing, Barry and Ellen put a sign in the window announcing that the store would live on under new ownership.

Owner Jacqueline Kellachan with Abigail Thomas, Abbe Aronson, and Martha Frankel.

Owner Jacqueline Kellachan with Abigail Thomas, Abbe Aronson, and Martha Frankel.

The new owners redid the floors, painted the walls, moved the children’s section, and renovated upstairs so that it could be used as a venue for readings and events, finally reopening on October 29, 2010. Kellachan, formerly an epidemiologist for the City and then the New York State Department of Health, devoted herself to the store full-time, ordering books with the help of Gaela Pearson, and drawing on information from the store’s earlier database. Kellachan set out to improve the stores online presence, while continuing to cater to local tastes for literary fiction, contemporary music biographies, poetry, children’s titles, art, and books on local history.

In 2011, the year that brought with it the demise of Borders and the closing of more than a few Barnes and Nobles stores, the Golden Notebook offered over 90 author events to the community. Since then, thanks to the abundance of readers and writers that call the Hudson Valley home, that number has risen to over 100. As part of its ongoing association with Martha Frankel and the Woodstock Writers Festival (link to WWF page), the store has been lucky enough to host and sponsor events featuring Pulitzer Prize winners William Kennedy and Paul Muldoon, Man Booker Prize winner Lydia Davis, living legend Philippe Petit, and luminaries such as Steve Earle, Colm Toibin, Cheryl Strayed, Andre Dubus III, Augusten Burroughs, and Zephyr Teachout.

More recently the bookstore has started partnering with public and independent schools in the area for book fairs (link to community giving). Proceeds from these book fairs go to supporting the schools as well as non-profit groups in Ulster County and the surrounding Hudson Valley. Over the past year the Golden Notebook has contributed cash or in kind donations to schools in the Onteora and Saugerties School Districts as well as to non-profits such as the Phoenicia Rotary, Ulster Literacy, Inc. and Family.

In 2015, the Golden Notebook continues on in the original spirit of its founders, providing quality literature to a town full of creative folk. Stop by the store! Our experienced staff will share their hands-on knowledge and help you find the books you want and the books you need. We are here for you online as well. We have lots of books to recommend and we will ship anywhere (we have eBooks, too). In the meantime check out our events, plan your next visit to Woodstock and come visit a real, live bookstore!

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