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‘Wonderful journey’ comes to an end

Annie’s Book Stop owner closes Plainville store amidst pandemic

By Heather McCarron

hmccarron@wickedlocal.com

PLAINVILLE — Books hold a special place in the heart of Ann Durant - so much so that they are like members of her family, each variously holding within its whispering, inkfragrant pages memories of past times spent together or promises of new friendships, new discoveries and new adventures.

So it should come as no surprise that Durant, owner of Annie's Book Stop on Man-Mar Drive, has been on a very determined mission the last couple of weeks: to leave the collection of books in her secondhand bookstore in equally loving hands.

Durant has found herself in the difficult position of having to close the business her mother - the late Eleanor Arnold - opened nearly four decades ago, and that she herself has been operating for nearly 25 years.

While she has overcome some significant challenges, including competing with big box book stores and online purveyors, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be too much.

'Basically, my decision to close is directly because of the pandemic, when you count what it would cost me to stay open,' she said. 'I have jumped hurdles - the big box stores, the online stuff. I've always found a way around it, but this ... whether it's my age or the length of time I've done this ... this I couldn't find a way over it or under it or around it.'

Durant originally planned to call it a day at the end of the month, but last Thursday decided it would be best to blow the whistle after last Saturday and not prolong the sadness.

She said Plainville Library Director Melissa Campbell will come in to take what she wants of the remaining book collection. A representative of the Exeter Library is also scheduled to adopt books.

'My goal is really to try to find them all a good home,' Durant said of her books. 'And then I'm going to walk away and start a new chapter in my life.'

She spent some time last week sending some books home with longtime customers, and she hopes the librarians will give the rest of the collection a place to go where they will eventually find appreciative readers.

A practical decision

While Durant has included new books among her inventory, the shop's bread and butter over the years has come from previously owned books.

'The bloodline of the store was based on people turning books over to us,' she said.

In order to achieve what she would consider a 'COVID-19 standard,' Durant explained staying open would have required laying down more than she could comfortably afford, especially after having been closed since March and collecting no income since that time.

'I would have had to do one of two things: Rent more space to store books for a month to quarantine them, which would have involved a lot of moving back and forth of books, or the other alternative was to hire someone full time who would just be handling that problem as books came in.'

She said she would not have felt comfortable just putting donated books on her shelves without taking steps to sanitize them, 'because we just don't know' how long, or even if, the virus can remain on such surfaces.

'I assumed that had to be part of the process to let people who were coming to me know that I had done right by them,' Durant explained.

The other alternative, to hire someone to clean the books, also did not sit well with her. Financial issues aside, she said, she just didn't like 'the idea of exposing someone to a potential threat all the time.'

'And I still would have had to invest in the equipment to clean those books,' she said. 'Basically, that would mean that I would be at a draw.'

On top of that, there were the questions about how business might work on the other side of the pandemic - she'd have to limit the number of people coming into the shop, tucked into a small space in one of the brick buildings at Man-Mar Drive, and she'd have to be constantly sanitizing.

At the end of the day, she said, it would have meant fewer overall customers, and an insurmountable loss in income.

'I didn't see how we would be able to do that for what I'm anticipating would be a couple of years,' Durant said. 'If I was 30 years younger, maybe I would have really tried to figure out some way of doing this.'

As it is though, she confided, 'I'll be 60 this year, so I really feel like I've been doing this for at least 28 years, 29 years. I'm ready to take a pause and reassess.'

Durant acknowledged the loan programs that have been put forth to help small businesses hurt by the pandemic, but said the prospect was too unappealing to her, saying going into a loan would tie her hands and make her beholden to a lender.

With her decision to close, she said, 'I feel like I can walk away. I've always known that at any point, if I was ready, I could lock the door and walk away and not owe anyone anything.'

Ann Durant, owner of Annie’s Book Stop in Plainville, has made the difficult decision to close her store in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The nearly 40-year-old business was originally owned by her mother, the late Eleanor Arnold, whose photo she holds in a frame opposite a photo of her dad, Ralph. She is surrounded by emptying shelves in the store at Man-Mar Drive. [WICKED LOCAL STAFF PHOTO/HEATHER MCCARRON]

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