New Portsmouth Business Combines Books With Beer

Dec 3, 2012

Co-owner David Lovelace
Credit Peter Domingos

With increased competition from online booksellers like Amazon, local bookstores have been hard hit especially here in New England. But one new bookstore in Portsmouth has created a business model that just might have staying power.

David Lovelace moved to Portsmouth two years ago and knew he found the right spot for his bookshop he co-owns with two others.  It’s an old custom house and post office building in the heart of Portsmouth. He wanted a community center feel where people could gather and browse books, but that’s not all. 

"We’re certainly more than a musty used bookshop, the classic idea. We want to create a scene with readings, music, and books, and conversation and…"

Beer and wine.  A bookstore  and coffeeshop is a well known pair, but Portsmouth Book and Bar is the first bookshop in the Granite State to offer a café and bar with local draft beers, wines and tapas, says Lovelace.

"We don’t want it to be a hard drinking bar but i have always thought the need to break up this sort of solemnity around bookstores. I want to make it fun. I want people bringing piles of books and sitting at the bar and saying look at this…look at that….and obviously it’s going to help our bottom line."

Dan Bouchard from Arlington, Massachusetts stopped by on opening day.

"I think it’s a fantastic idea. I mean here it is …early afternoon and I'm havin’ a beer with a stack of books beside me and if i have another one i might get a larger stack…hahaha… I noticed they don’t have a TV above the bar.  We thought if they put a giant kindle up there and had a nice novel with the slow turning pages we could be here all day."

And that’s the idea…to create a viable business model in an industry that’s crazy competitive.  More than 1,000 bookstores closed across the country from 2000 to 2007.  And that’s a number that owner David Lovelace knows all too well.

"There’s no doubt about it…it’s a struggle.  We’ve had a number of people…just knock on the window and ask if this was a library…it’s almost like it’s a fading thing to have a real browser’s bookstore.  I think local bookstores do well when they offer a real sense of place.  And that’s what’s great about this town is that people browse this town and then they can wander around in here."

The owners believe success will come by creating a cultural hub that attracts 25-40 year olds who appreciate the touch of a book and the craftsmanship of an artisanal beer.  But Lovelace and his partners are still all about the books. And 15,000 books at that.  One of the co-owners is John Petrovato, a veteran bookseller, who's in charge of buying the books.

"We really carefully select all our books. We want to put forth the idea that we’re a real bookstore.  Our prices are in-line with what you can buy a used book on amazon for.  I think it’s the model that’s going to get bookstores back in most places in the country again.  It’s like bringing our two favorite things under one roof…beer and books…what could be better than that?"

The craft beer industry grew in retail dollars by 15 percent in 2011, according to the brewer's association.  Combining beer with books is a business idea that works for David and Nancy Mcurdl of Newcastle who saunter in while Christmas shopping.

"I think it’s a great concept.  It’s such a vibrant community anyway so why not a book, beer, glass of wine on a cold snowy day like today…it warms your heart.  It’s a fun spot.  Nancy (wife):  great combination!"

But even though books and beer is a tantalizing combination in theory like dinner and a movie or baseball and peanuts, it always comes down to the bottom line and whether people will come for a book and stay for a beer.