Talking with owner Lacy Simons

What makes Rockland’s hello hello stand out on the shortlist for ‘Bookshop of the Year’

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 10:00am

ROCKLAND—It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Lacy Simons, owner of hello hello books in Rockland.

In mid-January, she got a call at the bookstore from a representative of Publishers Weekly, who told her that hello hello had been chosen as one of the five nominees on their shortlist for the 2019 PW Bookstore of the Year Awards.

“My first reaction was that I was just really stunned and then I honestly had to stop myself from crying a little,” she said. “ I can’t remember that last time I was so caught off guard. I’m a serious over-preparer and overthinker as a mother, a business owner, as woman in general, so to be truly surprised was a big deal. I had to pull it together.”

It just so happened Simons was traveling to attend the Winter Institute, the annual conference of the American Booksellers Association Conference (ABA, the trade association for independent booksellers in the U.S.)  in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 24 where the official announcement was made.

She serves on the ABA's invitation-only Bookseller Advisory Council and frequently gives talks and moderates panels about bookshops and small business practices. Simons was present when Publishers Weekly announced hello hello books as one of the nominees.

“I got to be surrounded by the people who truly understood the significance of this and it was especially extraordinary,” she said.

2019 PW Bookstore of the Year Shortlist

  • A Likely Story (Sykesville, Md.)

  • Classic Lines Bookstore (Pittsburgh)

  • hello hello books (Rockland, Maine)

  • Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

  • Watermark Books & Café (Wichita)

 ‘For us in the book industry, this felt like being nominated for an Emmy.’

— Lacy Simons

The PW Bookstore of the Year Award has been given every year for the past 26 years. Five bookstores were nominated this year, from a pool of more than two dozen nominees. Each winner was chosen by a carefully selected panel of five jurors, each with years of experience in the publishing industry. The decision was based on a long list of criteria including: buying, marketing, customer service; community involvement; management-employee relations, and merchandising and what makes the store unique.

The motto of hello hello books, which opened in August of 2011 in the space behind Rock City Cafe in downtown Rockland, is “small but powerful.”

“When they called me, they emphasized that they wanted to focus on newer and smaller stores this year, stores that are having an outsized impact on their communities,” said Simons.

“For me, it means an opportunity to talk about the larger picture of starting a small business in Maine and what it takes to keep it going year round. We’re all thinking of creative ways to improve the sales margins, and one of the benefits of being so small is that we’ve been able to evolve with our customers.

“On this micro level, we’re able to grow certain areas of interest on particular subjects of books, and as a result of that, cultivate this loyalty among our customers and have an impact on the reading culture of Rockland. And that’s what strengthens the ties to the community.”

cleardot.gifLast November, Simons spoke on a panel discussing how challenging it was to not only start an independent bookstore, but to delegate aspects of it to her three employees. (See related story.)

For now, Simons is just getting back to work. Winners will receive a write-up in Publishers Weekly in May 2019 and will be honored at an awards ceremony in New York City.  This year’s winner will be named in late March and will be featured in the pre-BookExpo edition of Publishers Weekly magazine. The awards will be presented at BookExpo in New York City in June.


Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com