BELFAST—Bellabooks owners Kim Zahares and Gary Guida are finally in a new space this summer. Following an unexpected eviction from their anchored space in the Masonic building in Belfast this past winter, Zahares and Guida took a walk around town, a bit stunned, wondering what they were going to do. For the last seven years, they’d operated their independent book shop on High Street. With a notoriously tight rental market, there weren’t many commercial spaces open.
“When Kim initially visualized where we wanted our bookstore, she saw it in some kind of old barn,” said Guida, “but I said, there’s no place around Belfast like that. The day, we got the email from the new owner telling us to vacate the space, we were just walking around trying to figure out our next move. We walked down Pendleton Alley and this couple came out of this old building.”
“We’d never seen anyone walk out of that building before and were curious,” said Zahares, taking over the story. “We asked what they were doing and they said they were caterers moving out of the building and that it would be available. When we walked in, we both looked at each other, there was no doubt in our minds.”
Originally in 1895, the building was a wheelwright shop, where craftsmen made or repair wheels, wheeled carriages,and part of the Livery Stable complex.
It took six months for the couple to move everything over themselves, do some light carpentry and stage the place floor to ceiling with books and antiques. “People in town thought we’d never re-open,” said Zahares. “They watched us carry over boxes of books in the dead of winter and all of what we thought were ‘little’ carpentry projects weren’t so little one we got into it.”
“What was our plan?” joked Guida. “Throw some books on the damn wall and open the store.”
On June 15, Bellabooks re-opened and the place is everything they originally envisioned. With the original floors, exposed beams and a big barn door facing the street, the historic character of this shop is the farthest thing away from the modern interiors of a Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble store—sort of the anti-gentrification of Belfast. And, their loyal patrons absolutely love it.
The building is twice the size of the last place they rented, with room for new titles, used books, a children’s section on the second floor, multiple nooks with tables and even a new and bakery and café set to open soon called freeverse bakery.
“I do all the baking,” said Zahares. “We’ll have cookies, scones and muffins to go with Rock City Coffee. In a way, we are so happy the way everything went down as it did. At first, we thought no one would find us all the way down in this alley way, but people have been pouring in—friends, customers, tourists.
“It was nothing shy of a miracle,” said Guida. The line we keep hearing is ‘This is magical in here.”
To learn more about Bellabooks and its latest developments visit their Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org