Defying the Odds, Retired Teacher Runs Community Bookstore

Remember how the hardworking indie bookstore owner, played by Meg Ryan, was crushed by the chain bookstore opening in her neighborhood in the 90s blockbuster “You’ve Got Mail”?

This story is different.

In 2007 Rita F. Maggio retired from teaching and opened BookTowne on Manasquan’s Main Street.

kidssectionbookstoreThe independent bookstore is a species so endangered that mega-author James Patterson has pledged to donate a million dollars to them. Yet BookTowne has become a destination for both national and local authors, and for book lovers, families and school communities.

Mary Higgins Clark will visit May 2nd, and Jane Green (Tempting Fate) May 1st.

BookTowne competes with Barnes & Noble in Brick, she notes, but does its best to hold its own. The owner loves being part of “a community where people support reading and books. Families are a good deal of our business.”

Although based in Manasquan, it’s not just seasonal traffic, Rita says. “The schools are great to work with.”

For a recent book signing by N.J. children’s book author Dan Gutman, approximately 200 people owner with local author shelf bookstoreattended. A New York Times listed author, Gutman pens the My Weird School series for middle-schoolers, with comical titles such as “Mr. Tony is Full of Baloney” and “Ms. Beard is Weird.”

A former middle school teacher, guidance counselor and school principal, Rita loves to spread the “joy of reading.”

“When someone writes a book,” she says, “They have a story to tell. It’s really important for independent bookstores to give them a venue. A local author may have a good quality piece and with some exposure, he or she can really take off.” She keeps local authors on her shelf for three months.

Open every day except for four major holidays, the store’s tag line is Where Good Friends Meet Good Books. Rita’s own tastes run to authors such as Anna Quindlin and Jumpira Lahira.

“I knew I wanted to be at the shore and I like the town of Manasquan itself,” Rita says. The Brielle library and the Algonquin Theatre lend their facilities for large book signings such as Gutman’s.

BookTowne, with three employees, generously supports local authors. But, it vets the books carefully before extending an invitation to an author. “We want to present good quality books. We don’t accept every local author. It has to be professionally done.” When she read “The Numb,” self-published by Lauren Kehoe, a 19-year-old student at Ocean County College, she was enthusiastic. It’s a dystopian novel set in a dark future in which emotions have ostensibly been eradicated.

“The Numb has done well here,” says Rita, gesturing to the shelf where a copy of the book is displayed.

frontdeskbookstoreBookTowne’s goal is to have one author reading a week. Winter’s a little harder, but with the help of an event planner and some networking, it’s attracted some best selling authors.

Rita notes, “It’s important when you own a small business to host the kind of events that bring people in.”

She actively supports her local business community. When big guns such as fought to avoid paying taxes for online sales, Rita traveled to Trenton to testify on behalf of local businesses.

“It’s about equity,” she explains. “We pay local and state sales taxes, and so should they. In some cases we can meet their prices, but it’s hard when they’re not paying taxes.”

The law passed, to her relief. “This makes it more fair.”

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial