Canterbury Booksellers Closing But Its Traditions to Continue

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Thirteen-year-old Canterbury Booksellers in Madison, Wisconsin, recently announced it will be closing on February 29, and Madison's Avol's Book Store, which sells used and scholarly books, will take over its location and reopen on March 1 under the name Avol's Books at Canterbury. Avol's has already begun moving inventory into various sections of the store as Canterbury sells its own stock at a discount. During the transition both stores will be operating out of Canterbury, and the original Avol's will also stay open until February 29.

Canterbury's owners Trudy and Harvey Barash had long been seeking a buyer so Trudy could spend more time with her grandchildren and aged mother. Avol's isn't buying the Canterbury location, but will be leasing the space from the Barashes.

"There's no perfect time or way to close a bookstore," said Trudy Barash. "But this is probably the most graceful way it could have been done. Basically, I'm almost 65 and have been thinking that in one or two years I'd like to find someone to carry on the business. I have five grandchildren around the country I'd like to see more often and my mother is nearing 90. We weren't prepared to make a move at this time, but something happened that was the opportunity of a decade."

Madison, Wisconsin's
Canterbury Booksellers, soon to be Avol's Books at Canterbury

Avol's lease had recently expired and owner Ron Czerwien was looking for a new space about the size of his current store (5,100 square feet). Avol's, which opened in downtown Madison in 1980, also needed to stay in the area. Canterbury, 5,500 square feet and a block away from Avol's, was the perfect match, said Barash, who approached the very receptive Czerwien once she learned about Avol's situation.

Czerwien was initially surprised when the Barashes approached him with the offer of moving into Canterbury's space because Canterbury's has been a longstanding Madison institution, but his surprise quickly changed to elation. "The more we talked, the more I realized they were looking for an entity like us to take over. There is no better space in downtown Madison for us than Trudy's present space."

Many of Canterbury's events will be carried on at Avol's. Among other traditions, Avol's will continue the Canterbury Run/Walk for Literacy to benefit the Greater Madison Literacy Council. A modified schedule of author and poetry readings will continue with a short interruption during February and March to allow time for Avol's to become situated. And, though Avol's is a used bookstore, the staff will special order any new books requested.

Barash told BTW that Canterbury will be open for another two months, and staff members, who are "getting generous severance packages," can look for new employment during that time. "They're all extremely talented…. They're so smart, and their skills are very transferable to either another bookstore or business. We'll help in whatever way we can -- either with networking or writing great letters of recommendation -- to get them situated."

The store's manager, Soren Schoff, who has been with Canterbury's for 12 years wasn't sure what he'd be doing after the closing, but for the next two months he planned on "helping the Barashes make the transition go as smoothly as possible." After that, Schoff hoped to stay in bookselling in Madison or elsewhere.

Schoff was surprised by the closing because Canterbury's had made a lot of progress in the past couple of years. "I believe 2003 was the best year we ever had, certainly within the last six years or so." Schoff said he knew the Barashes were looking for a buyer, but didn't realize it would happen so soon. He also added that he understood the Barashes decision. "Because of the circumstances of the other bookstore, it happened quickly," he explained. About other staff members Schoff said they were doing "pretty well all things considered" and that a few planned on going back to school.

Czerwien described his ambivalent feelings about the closing: "We're all unhappy about Trudy's decision to close the store. It's another independent going under. But we're delighted to take over the space and, in at least some ways, carry on their tradition." --Karen Schechner