Atticus Bookstore: A Tale of Three Cities

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Atticus Bookstore has a branch in three of the top college towns in the Northeast -- New Haven and Middletown, Connecticut, and Amherst, Massachusetts. And though the three stores share the same name and each is located in a bustling college town, each store has its own unique identity. "Academic areas are common to all three stores, but they're not just college bookstores," Atticus Bookstore General Manager Fran Keilty said. "All three are general bookstores -- and each is different."

Atticus Bookstore,
Middletown, Connecticut

Charles Negaro, the owner of the Atticus bookstores, opened his first Atticus bookstore in Southbury, Connecticut, in 1972 (that store was sold in 1991). In 1976, he bought the Wesleyan University bookstore in Middletown, Connecticut, and in the same year, opened an Atticus bookstore near Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The bookstore in Amherst was purchased in 1991.

Keilty, a member of the ABA Strategic Planning Committee, has been working for Atticus since 1973. She began as a part-time employee in the Southbury store. Barely a year later, she was a store manager and now is the general manager for all three stores.

Keilty's office resides upstairs at Atticus' 8,000 square-foot Middletown store, though she spends a great deal of time in the store, as well as traveling to Atticus' two other locations. The Middletown location, which is located a block from Main Street and the Wesleyan campus, is the official Wesleyan University store. "We sell text books and student paraphernalia," she said. "And we have a café."

Apart from its college ties, however, the Middletown store is extremely active in the local community, Keilty said. They've coordinated a number of events with the Russell Library, providing authors for library programs or costumed characters (based on characters in books) for library events. The store also works with Head Start, a federally funded pre-school program for low-income children, often bringing over costumed characters to read to the kids.

On an annual basis, Atticus helps public schools and nurseries with its "Reading Makes Cents" program, which encourages parents to do their book shopping at the store. Receipts are given to parent/teacher organizations and at the end of the promotion, Atticus gives 10 percent of the receipts back to the schools in cash or 25 percent in store credit, which the schools can use to buy textbooks.

Additionally, the store sponsors a scholarship for the Wesleyan Writer's Conference. "We contribute a $1,000 scholarship," Keilty said. "The conference may not be as well-known as Iowa's, but it is still pretty well-known."

Its proximity to Yale University aside, the true centerpiece of Atticus' New Haven store is, without any question, its café, said Keilty. "Frommers mentioned it as being 'always occupied,'" she said. "[The New Haven store] could also be listed in the guide under 'Where to Eat.' It's extremely active."

One reason for the café's (and the store's) popularity is the location of the store. It is in the British Art Center Museum building, across from the Yale Art Gallery, and next-door to the Yale Repertory Theater.

However, the main reason for the café's popularity is the food -- Negaro is not only Atticus' owner, he's a baker and the owner of Chabaso Bakery, which supplies the baked goods to the New Haven and Middletown cafés (Amherst does not have a café). In the early '80s, Negaro began baking French baguettes and "fell in love with bread making," Keilty explained. "He decided to open a bakery to make European breads; he imported an oven from France and is a major producer of Artisan Breads."

Like its Middletown counterpart, the New Haven store has a good relationship with the local public schools. There, Atticus began the Project Dream program, which offers New Haven schools a 15 percent discount on book purchases. "The city of New Haven schools buy the books for children and classrooms, and then the author and class come to the store and the author talks," Keilty explained. "We serve milk and brownies, and the kids get a five dollar gift certificate." She said there are 10 such events scheduled for the coming school year.

The 6,000-square-foot Amherst store is "the most academically oriented of the three stores," Keilty said. "We sell used and new books and text books." Amherst is home to University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. Not surprisingly, the store puts a special focus on literature, philosophy, political theory, cultural studies, and literary criticism, she said. "We do a large number of events in Amherst, most of which are related to academic interests," Keilty noted.

While each of Atticus' three stores is unique, they do share some common threads, one of which is Book Sense. Atticus began using both the Book Sense Bestseller and the Book Sense 76 lists over two years ago. "Book Sense titles made more sense in terms of our customers," said Keilty. "We pass out all the literature." She said that many Atticus regulars anticipate the release of the bimonthly 76 list and "come in looking for it." Additionally, each store has a display table with approximately 40 of the 76 titles, with selections being changed periodically.

"Book Sense is a wonderful vehicle for our staff," Keilty said. "It allows them to recommend a book they can be confident in. It's all organized in place, and it's become a grassroots type of thing -- it was conceived by ABA, but its been bought into by booksellers."

Complementing Book Sense is the "Atticus Select 25," which the stores have been using for five years and is displayed on the Atticus Web site ( The Select 25 is a monthly list of 25 titles -- generally new releases -- chosen by Keilty with the stores' local markets in mind.

Then there is "Attikids! -- Kids with Great Book Attitude," a membership club for children. When children sign up for Attikids, they're put on a mailing list and are sent notices of visits by authors, invitations to special events, and the Attikids newsletter. Also, there is a club discount for the parents -- with the purchase of five children's titles, the average price of the five books is credited toward the purchase of a sixth book. --David Grogan