Monday, March 27
MANCHESTER — Ed and Barbara Morrow may end up remembering 2006 as the 30th anniversary of the little book shop they started. Then again, that just may be overshadowed by Publisher's Weekly recently naming the Northshire Bookstore the best bookseller in the country.

"This is national recognition from the members of the book community that Northshire is the cream of the crop. Every year one bookstore stands as a model of exceptional retail stores with a passion for books, and this year was (the Northshire's) time to shine," said Donna Paz Kaufman, who coordinates the award for Publishers Weekly.

The Northshire, along with nine other bookstores across the country, was nominated for the award by a representative of Random House. The final selection was made by a panel of nine members of the book publishing community.

Ed Morrow said he and his staff were very excited to hear they had won the award.

"We're proud to be among a group of top-notch bookstores. This is recognition of a job well done and confirmation we're doing the right things," he said.

The store has certainly done right by authors, who are among its biggest boosters. The Northshire has hosted a number of authors, from nationally known writers such as Frank McCourt and David Sedaris to Vermont authors of various levels of fame.

Dorset resident and best-selling novelist John Irving, author of "The World According to Garp" and "The Cider House Rules," said an inviting home for writers was important.

"The audiences at the Northshire are informed, knowledgeable, and it's gratifying. As an author, it's great to have an audience show up. It's lonely not to meet them, and it's nice to have a venue to assure yourself they exist," he said.

Chris Bohjalian, the writer of Oprah's Book Club selection "Midwives," remembers two occasions when the Northshire provided a sizable audience. Once, he was appearing at the same time as a New England Patriots playoff game, and the other was hastily scheduled after a previous date was canceled because of a snowstorm.

Ed Morrow said he knew a store in a small town in southern Vermont wasn't a natural choice for publishers to send authors, because they can't maximize their appearances with promotional appearances on major television or radio stations. But the store's reputation has become a draw in itself.

Independent stores like the Northshire are also an important asset to publishers. Unlike large chain stores, a small bookstore can sell more than just what's on the latest bookseller list.

"The publisher is really taking a risk with an unknown author, and that's where the independent bookstore takes over, hand selling and telling people, 'Hey, this is a great book,'" Ed Morrow said.

Both Irving and Bohjalian had high praise for the staff at Northshire. Irving said he enjoyed the staff picks, because they allow customers who get to know the reviewer's taste to find new books they can trust they'll enjoy.

Bohjalian, who has to drive about 75 miles to visit the store for an appearance, said the trip is made easier because the staff always recommends the perfect book-on-tape.

The Northshire Bookstore has expanded a number of times over the years with the most recent renovation in December 2003. At the time, the store almost doubled in size and added the popular coffee shop, the Spiral Press Cafe.

Ed Morrow said it has been important for him, wife, Barbara, and son Chris Morrow, who manages the store, to keep the store involved in the community even as its national reputation grows. The Northshire is involved with a number of community groups, and Ed Morrow said the staff will "do cartwheels" to get any book a customer wants.

It's the kind of reputation that has made the Northshire's status as an award winner almost redundant.

"We've heard from a number of authors and publishers that we deal with since the announcement of the PW award, and a lot of people have been saying, 'We thought you already won that,'" Ed Morrow said.

E-mail Patrick McArdle at pmcardle@benningtonbanner.com