It didn’t take Barbara Clarke long to decide she wanted to buy the Provincetown Bookshop.
The store has been a beloved fixture in the lives of Clarke and her two daughters for nearly a decade, she said this week. She has particularly warm memories of visiting in the wintertime — opening the sliding glass door and shutting it as quickly as possible to keep out the cold air. When she learned the shop’s door at 246 Commercial St. would be closed for good unless a buyer stepped in, submitting an offer was an easy call.
Clarke said she wants the bookstore to remain a “connecting point” for the community after she takes the reins from Philip Swayze, whose uncles, Joel Newman and Elloyd Hanson, bought it in 1963 and operated the shop for decades. Swayze and Clarke confirmed that the sale was expected to close on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
Clarke, 55, who lives in Provincetown and Boston, is founder and president of the Impact Seat, a venture capital and philanthropic fund focused on technology startups led by women, especially women of color and from LGBTQ communities. She is also a lead investor in Portfolia, another venture capital company that funds women entrepreneurs.
“My business is injecting capital into companies so they can grow,” she said. While this will be her first retail venture, she’s confident the community will continue to support the business. “Bookstores can be profitable in 2021,” she said. “It’s been 89 years — I think it’s been tested.”
She said she envisions using the reputation of the bookstore, and of Provincetown in general, to attract writers for local events. “Provincetown has a deep tradition for the arts and the writers who have lived or come through here,” Clarke said. She mentioned a few names: Lauren Hough (author of Leaving Is the Hardest Part) and Michelle Zauner (author of Crying in H Mart and creator of the indie rock band Japanese Breakfast). “Wouldn’t it be fun,” she mused, “to bring someone like Roxane Gay to interview some people.”
Swayze, who has run the store since 2014 after inheriting it from Hanson and Newman, said he had received one other serious offer, from a couple in California. “He was from Provincetown, and she is running a bookstore in San Francisco,” Swayze said. Ultimately, though, that deal fell through.
The shop was listed for sale in June for $50,000. Swayze said he would “prefer not to say” what the agreed-on sale price was. “My uncles bought it for $2,000,” he said. “The money is important but not how I will remember it.”
Swayze said each member of the staff has chosen a memento from the shop in addition to a favorite owl, the shop’s longtime mascot. As for himself, Swayze said he has taken an old wooden sign painted by his uncle, which reads: “Not a book in this window is likely to sell to Hollywood or to a liver pill company. Matter of fact, not more than five or six people in all Provincetown are likely to be interested in any one of them. But Pal, if you’re up to them, they’re the best reading in the world!” Swayze said the sign perfectly summed up his uncles’ stance on profits.
Swayze has also commissioned an oil painting of the old Greek revival house at 246 Commercial St. where the shop has been since 1940. “You can’t take the creaky floorboards and the musty smell with you, so that has to live inside my brain,” he said.
When Clarke reopens the store, it will be in a new location. The building that houses the current shop was sold in June to Paige Koudijs, co-owner of Mavis Tire Supply. Her son operates the Hennep cannabis dispensary in the adjacent storefront.
Clarke, who worked in a bookstore when she was an undergraduate at Tufts, said she wants to reopen the shop in the West End next summer. “It’s going to be a challenge to find a spot,” she said. She wants to buy rather than rent, and hopes that anyone looking to sell in the West End will reach out to her.
“Bookstores are great neighbors,” she said.