BookHampton: One Sold, One to Go

New owners in Southampton; in East Hampton, not yet
Daniel Hirsch, left, and Gregory Harris, former BookHampton employees, bought the Southampton BookHampton from Charline Spektor and renamed it Southampton Books. Jennifer Landes

Charline Spektor is ready to move on. 

“I’m leaving and I’m making every effort to see that the keys are in someone else’s pocket when I do so,” said Ms. Spektor, the owner of BookHampton. 

On Nov. 11, Ms. Spektor sold BookHampton’s Southampton store to Daniel Hirsch and Gregory Harris. Both former employees, Mr. Hirsch, 30, lives in Water Mill and Mr. Harris, 31, lives in Sag Harbor. The new owners have subsequently renamed the shop Southampton Books, and will also sell rare, collectible, and signed books. In addition to speeding up special orders, they plan to launch a door-to-door delivery service. 

“The bookstore business is evolving. Some are in the position to survive and thrive and the Southampton location is a special one.”

“Having a bookstore means so much to this community and we didn’t want to see it go,” said Mr. Hirsch. 

Ms. Spektor is still on the hunt for a buyer for BookHampton in East Hampton, someone who sees great value in not only running an independent bookstore, but ensuring its vitality. 

“It’s unimaginable to think that East Hampton would exist without BookHampton. There would be a real hole,” said Ms. Spektor. “As a responsible neighbor, I want to give it the best possible chance of continuing.”

She described BookHampton as a “very healthy bookstore,” despite shifting consumer habits and the rapid proliferation of e-books and other online media. “None of this is caused by the economics of the bookstore,” said Ms. Spektor, adding that the new owner has to withstand “the slow season, as well as the breakneck pace of the fast season.”

Ms. Spektor has also witnessed another change in the demographic of the year-round customer. For several years, her clientele consisted of a devoted summer and weekend customer base that would visit the shop “every summer, all summer, and nearly every weekend of the year.”

“They had an income which allowed them to have a second home, but it wasn’t the kind of wealth that we see now,” she said, adding that East Hampton is no longer a second-home destination, but increasingly a third, fourth, and fifth-home destination. 

This summer revealed but another shift, with Airbnb rentals bringing people to East Hampton for only four to five days at a stretch. “It’s changing in a way that can be very detrimental to any retail operation,” said Ms. Spektor, who splits her time between Amagansett and Manhattan. “Instead of spending the summer or every weekend of the summer, people are coming for short visits and buying one or two books. The next stop is Martha’s Vineyard or Palm Springs.”

BookHampton’s new business model aims to reach voracious readers no matter their domestic or international destination: “We’ll ship it to you wherever you are — and we’ll ship it for free.” 

A longtime political activist, Ms. Spektor, 61, plans to focus on a multi-state gun control project based in churches and synagogues, describing the country’s volume of guns as the one thing that keeps her up at night. Once the store is in stable hands, she will also devote more time to fiction and nonfiction writing projects. 

BookHampton opened on Newtown Lane in 1971, when George Caldwell and Jorge Costello, known locally as “the Georges,” first started the business. The bookstore later moved to Main Street, before landing in its current location across the street. Hal Zwick briefly purchased it before Ms. Spektor and Jeremy Nussbaum, her late husband who died in 2012, took over in 2000. 

Over the years, besides the East Hampton and Southampton stores, the couple opened locations in Sag Harbor, Amagansett, and Mattituck.

Valerie Smith, who has run the Monogram Shop on Newtown Lane for the past 18 years, is hopeful that someone will purchase the East Hampton location and run it as a bookstore. 

“The most soul-crushing thing that could possibly happen is for BookHampton to be replaced by Ann Taylor,” said Ms. Smith, who views the potential loss of a local, independently run bookstore as a “devastating blow” to East Hampton Village.

Though Ms. Spektor said she is “confident that someone will step forth, nothing has been nailed down as of yet.” Never one to mince words, Ms. Smith cautioned that owning and operating an independent business is not for the faint of heart.

“Having a retail store is like having a newborn who never grows up. Its needs are daily and constant,” said Ms. Smith. “It’s really not something you can do from your house in Santa Barbara. You have to be here.”

For the time being, Chris Avena, BookHampton’s general manager for the past 16 years, is cautiously optimistic. 

Still, the process has been an unsettling one for the devoted staff of six full-time employees. Five days a week, Iggy, a terrier mix who belongs to Kim Lombardini, another manager, serves as the official greeter, along with M, a feral cat who wandered into the shop some years ago and never left. 

“Booksellers are passionate readers. Once you give a customer that first book they love, they’re yours forever. It’s really personal,” said Mr. Avena, who remains hopeful that BookHampton will stay put. “All of us feel extraordinarily optimistic that something will happen — and it will be a good thing for all of us.”

Early Monday afternoon, Book­Hampton was empty except for Mark Gettes, a longtime patron, who was looking for a new book to read. Mr. Gettes works as an anesthesiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital. He splits his time between Manhattan and East Hampton.

“It’s the reason that I drive into town. It’s the cultural center of East Hampton,” said Mr. Gettes, who makes a point of making regular purchases, despite being able to find some books more cheaply online. “Otherwise, it would just be a bunch of fancy little shops.”

Talk quickly turned to BookHampton’s search for a new owner. 

“It would be a big loss for the community if the bookstore were to close. It would definitely degrade the quality of life here in an important way,” said Mr. Gettes, who credits the lively bookstore and its knowledgeable staff with preventing Main Street from becoming a “plastic town center.” 

 “I really hope someone steps up and buys it,” he said.