Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst Books celebrates its 15-year anniversary

“One of the most pleasurable things about working in a bookstore is when somebody asks you for a recommendation”
(Flickr Creative Commons: Moi of Ra)

As 2018 continues on, Amherst Books, one of the few remaining local bookstores in the Amherst area, is celebrating its 15-year anniversary.

Amherst Books was initially founded by Nat Herold and Mark Wootton in 2003. Both Herold and Wootton had decades of experience before purchasing what has become Amherst books.

Herold has been working at bookstores since the early 1980s and owned his first one with some friends until it went out of business in 1990. Wootton opened a bookstore that same year and ran it for eight years before leaving town after it went out of business. In the meantime, Herold managed an Amherst bookstore, Atticus, with Wootton when Wootton came back to Amherst, before the two bought the store and started Amherst Books in 2003.

Currently the business is co-owned by Herold and Shannon Ramsey, a resident of Turners Falls and a University of Massachusetts alum from the class of 2008. Ramsey began working at Amherst Books in 2008 before becoming a co-owner last year after Wootton decided to retire. Ramsey, who majored in environmental design, noted that her time at UMass has helped lead her to selling books.

“My interests with sustainability and environmental design and business lend themselves to staying put in one place and growing roots and being part of the local economy and local community,” Ramsey said. “So, when I got a job here in [2008] and then I graduated, it just took right to it.”

Herold also explained he felt owning a bookstore was always one of the careers he wanted to pursue, noting “according to my parents, my first word was ‘book.’”

Herold also had desires of being a professor of philosophy or a high school English teacher before ultimately owning a bookstore.

To the co-owners, Amherst Books exists to provide a local space for individuals to connect with books. Ramsey explained she imagines Amherst Books as “a place where people can come and feel comfortable exploring ideas, talking with one another, connecting with good books and doing it in a place that’s unfettered by corporate notions of what needs to sell.”

While the job requires a lot of work and limits time spent reading, owners reflected positively on working at Amherst Books. Ramsey felt humbled by the workload and passionate about the store, and Herold found enjoyment in hiring people who did not know each other before but began to like each other enough to hangout outside of work.

Feelings of working at the store is equally positive among employees. Event Coordinator Rebecca Tishler, a 2014 graduate of Mount Holyoke College who began working at Amherst Books in August of 2016, noted she particularly enjoys the customer service aspect of the job.

“It’s very fun to talk to all the people that come in. Everyone who comes in, at the very least, is entertaining, if not also extremely pleasant and kind, and I have been able to make a lot of friends with different customers that come in,” Tishler said.

Both Herold and Ramsey pride themselves in having a wide-reaching inventory, small presses, local writers and local events while bringing people together over books and ideas.

The store along with selling books, holds a variety of events, such as readings, talks and book launch parties. To market themselves to the local community, the store uses social media and a website, along with small-scale advertising and promotional deals with other stores, such as The Black Sheep, in downtown Amherst.

According to Ramsey, another crucial aspect of their business is the textbook section, which provides textbooks for UMass and Amherst College students and requires forming connections with professors.

“We build relationships with the professors…they’re the real movers and shakers,” Ramsey said. “They’re writing books and doing research and putting together cool events and they ask us to be a part of it.”

Amherst Books currently faces major competition from various corporate book sellers, such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. According to Herold, there used to be about eight or nine bookstores in Amherst, with there now being only about two.

Herold also noted corporate competition has had a significant impact on the store’s textbook sales.

Previously, Amazon had a deal with UMass since 2015 to serve as the University’s online textbook provider; however, the University is replacing Amazon with online bookstore eCampus, a partnership that currently will last until 2024.

To counteract this competition, Amherst books sells additional products, such as literary tote bags, mugs and t-shirts.

Herold also explained corporate bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble, may not sell certain books, as a general rule among bookstores is that “a book has to sell three times a year to be worth its space on the shelf.” However, Amherst Books will still offer many of these books in order to have “a really good bookstore.”

To Ramsey, a major way the bookstore has fought competition has been by providing an alternative to the online shopping experience.

“I think we counteract Amazon just by being here,” Ramsey said. “The whole online shopping experience is a complete binary difference from going into a shop and discovering something. It’s very pointed; you type in what you want and it comes up and you click on it and it’s done. Just by virtue of the fact that we have managed to survive this long…people [can] come in and just discover something by wandering around.”

Due to the competition, Herold described the business as “hanging on” despite being near multiple colleges.

In celebration of its 15-year anniversary, Amherst Books is hosting a party at the store on Friday, Nov. 9. At the event, the store is planning to reveal a new logo and are expecting to feature a variety of authors, including Norton Juster, author of “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

The store is also giving a 15 percent discount on all items in the store on that day and plan to provide other deals throughout the weekend.

In discussing the bookstore, Herold emphasized his love for selling books and getting the right books to his customers.

“One of the most pleasurable things about working in a bookstore is when somebody asks you for a recommendation and you have to try and scope out the person, what they like… If you recommend a book, and they buy it and they come back later and tell you it was a great book,” Herold said, “it’s really about getting a book to a reader.”


Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.



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