Marblehead may be slightly behind the trend that has brought a renaissance of independent bookstores to the local retail landscape. But thanks to two determined local women, the town is poised to catch up quickly.
Laura Cooper, the former owner and proprietor of the flower shop Aster, will once again have a storefront in Marblehead’s historic downtown at 134 Washington St. with the Saltwater Bookstore.
Meanwhile, another local woman, Tracy Lessor, has decided to walk away from the corporate world and pursue what she said has been her dream since high school. Little Harbor Books is still in the planning stages, including the hunt for an ideal location, she told the Current.
Cooper says her vision for her small boutique bookstore is that it will be “thoughtfully designed, carefully curated and community based — a place people will want to return, again and again.”
“I’m passionate about books, and I’m looking forward to interacting with others — of all ages — who love to read as well,” she said.
Like many, Cooper said she has been inspired by the resurgence of bookstores throughout New England. She has particularly enjoyed her visits to Beacon Hill Books on Charles Street, where the owners have created the type of can’t-wait-to-get-back atmosphere she hopes to bring to Saltwater Bookstore.
On a personal level, the time was also right for Cooper to reenter the local retail scene. Her children are now teenagers and may even be convinced to help staff the store, she said.
That the “perfect little storefront” became available did not hurt, either.
“I walked in and knew that that was going to be the place,” Cooper said.
Cooper plans to close on the property at the end of the month and hopes to be welcoming customers by sometime in May.
“Right now, we’re just working very carefully with our interior design plans,” Cooper said. “There’ll be a cozy, coastal type of aesthetic.”
The reading spaces Cooper envisions will include two cushioned window seats in the front of the store. Children will have spaces of their own to curl up with a new find. She is also paying careful attention to lighting and wallpaper.
“It should be pretty magical,” Cooper said.
Cooper said she loved going to Aster, which was located at 86 Washington St. She closed up the shop and ran the business out of her home for about a decade after her children were born.
“But I’ve always had that yearning to have a storefront again,” Cooper said.
Cooper said her life “took a little bit of a different turn” once the pandemic hit. She formed a nonprofit, Wildflower Seaglass, through which she could sell artwork she created out of sea glass collected from Marblehead beaches, donating 100 percent of the profits to local dog rescue groups.
Cooper plans to incorporate some of her philanthropic artwork into the Saltwater Bookstore as well, she said.
Cooper is also an active volunteer with the Marblehead Festival of Arts and will be one of three chairs for the Artisans’ Marketplace to be held July 3 and 4 on the grounds of Abbot Hall.
Cooper said the Saltwater Bookstore will soon have its own Instagram account, @saltwaterbookstore, which will allow residents to contact her and stay in the loop on the store’s progress.
As for Lessor, she said that learning that Cooper shares her dream of bringing a bookstore back to Marblehead is not bad news at all.
“It would be wonderful to live in a community that has multiple bookstores,” she said.
Lessor added that she has very specific short- and long-term visions, and that she is confident that the two bookstores will be able to complement one another.
“If this town can hold multiple women’s clothing boutiques, bars, restaurants and hair salons, we can certainly add multiple bookstores,” she added.
Marblehead has been without a local bookstore since the end of 2019, when the Hugo family’s Spirit of ’76 bookstore closed after nearly 55 years in business.
Washington Street itself was also once home to a bookstore — Much Ado Books — owned by then-Marblehead residents Cate Olson and Nash Robbins.
By the mid-2000s, Much Ado had relocated to Alfriston, Sussex, England, where it was honored as Independent Bookshop of the Year for all of the U.K. in 2007. Much Ado is alive and well, as its website is promoting events throughout the spring.
In the 2010s, children’s bookstore Wit & Whimsy was a favorite among kids and parents but closed after five years.
In a recent column, the Current’s Virginia Buckingham described the “audible sigh” she lets out when passing by what is now a dentist’s office in the Spirit of ’76’s former home at the corner of Pleasant and School streets.
Soon, thanks to Cooper and Lessor, the only sighs coming from Buckingham and her fellow bibliophiles may be ones of relief.