A Bookstore Story

Once Upon a Time...

What better subject for a story than a bookstore? The Norwich Bookstore is full of stories: for adults and for children; some true, many fictional; tales of joy and sorrow, intrigue and inspiration. The bookstore has its our own tale of connections and personalities, of visions and hard work. 

Liza Bernard (left) and Penny McConnel (right) met in 1988 at a book study group. Penny was working at the Dartmouth Bookstore, then one of the oldest independent bookstores in the country. Liza was supporting herself designing and making hand woven and knit clothing, and later as an independent art consultant and graphic designer. 

In the early 1990s both Penny and Liza were approaching work transitions, and imagining what might come next. Always envious of Penny’s position being surrounded by books and the people who loved them, and knowing their work styles were complementary, Liza broached the idea of opening a bookstore together.

It was perhaps a long shot, but they both knew enough about business and books to go into the venture with their eyes wide open. They attended the regional trade shows, explored every possible retail site in the Upper Valley, and finally signed a lease when the current home of the Norwich Bookstore was just a hole in the ground where the old brick Post Office used to stand.

In the meantime, Liza and her husband Brian had a daughter, Rachel (also known as the bookstore baby) and Penny and her husband Jim built a new home. In July 1994, they received truckloads of books to start filling the new bookcases. On August 1st they opened the doors and were warmly welcomed by their new neighbors. 

Since then they have seen the children of the community grow and have said final goodbyes to some favorite customers. An eclectic group of booksellers have joined them – some for short stints before they moved on to other pursuits, some like Sally Duston, Kathryn Price, and Beth Reynolds have been helping readers here find just the right book for many years. Penny, Liza and their staff care deeply about the Upper Valley and are proud that the bookstore has become part of the fabric of the community.

That is the end of the tale of the beginning of the Norwich Bookstore… There are many chapters to come in what Penny and Liza hope to be a long, long story.