PROVINCETOWN — The new owner of the Provincetown Bookshop has found a home for her store, just a block or so from its former Commercial Street location. The building it had occupied for decades in its earlier incarnation was sold in June 2021 and is now home to Hennep — one of Provincetown’s five cannabis purveyors.
Barbara Clarke, who bought the bookshop in September 2021, says she expects to open by the end of the month in a 450-square-foot space at 229 Commercial St., adjacent to Soft as a Grape, where Sea Bags used to operate. Christine Barker will be her landlord — Barker bought 227 and 229 Commercial St. from Scott Ravelson for $4.6 million in June.
But Clarke is no ordinary tenant, and not just because she’s reopening an independent bookstore. She is an investor in Barker’s ambitious proposal to build a 31-room hotel, a restaurant and bar, and four luxury condominiums at the site of the Old Reliable Fish House, at 227R Commercial, which is directly behind the building at 227 Commercial St.
Barker’s plan also calls for a 260-foot pier extending into Provincetown Harbor. She has a purchase and sale agreement for the Old Reliable property. Her plan easily secured the necessary permits in 2019 and 2020 but has been tied up for over two years by an appeal filed by three abutters in state Land Court.
After Barker made small changes to the plan, Rob Anderson, who owns the Canteen, withdrew from the suit in 2021. During the summer, Barker satisfied another appellant, Ravelson, by buying his properties.
Patrick Patrick, the owner of Marine Specialties, is the last remaining appellant. “We are talking, and hopefully we’ll have an agreement,” Barker said in a phone interview on Monday.
Clarke, who has homes in Provincetown and Vermont, is the founder and president of The Impact Seat, an organization that invests in companies that are either owned or led by women, particularly women of color or from the LGBTQ community. She had been watching the progress of the Old Reliable proposal with interest. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity for the town,” she said.
A year ago, Clarke met Barker through friends. “We just got to talking,” Clarke recalled, and Barker suggested the possibility of collaborating. Clarke has since invested in the Old Reliable project, and she and Barker are now working on plans for 227 and 229 Commercial.
Barker said she is happy about the new business partnership. “And I love that she bought the bookshop,” she said.
The buildings at the front of the former Ravelson property, including the little red one housing Essentials and the Soft as a Grape building, retain a lot of historical detail. “Both are beautiful, historic buildings, so we’re definitely not going to demolish those,” Clarke said.
Behind the buildings are a warehouse and several empty apartments. “Those have been left to decay for years,” Barker said. She and Clarke have not yet formalized their development plan. “We are exploring mixed-use possibilities, including residential, hotel, commercial, and worker housing,” Barker said.
Clarke agreed that addressing the need for employee housing is a priority. “It’s actually essential to my investment that we start to alleviate the challenges of the workers in Provincetown,” she said.
Clarke will not be handling the day-to-day operation of the bookshop. “I will be very much involved but in the background,” she said. Derek McCormack has been hired as bookshop manager, according to the store’s Facebook page, which describes him as a “writer, reader, and bookseller who has been living in town since 2019.”
The shop’s main offering will be “books and a little bit of vinyl and some cards and notebooks,” Clarke said. As part of the purchase of the business from the previous owners, she bought the collection of books that remained. She donated those to More Than Words, a nonprofit organization that provides jobs and training to youth. “I was pretty sure it was going to take at least a year before we got into a space, and the cost of storing them was almost equal to the books themselves,” she said.
Because the store space is tight, “We’re going to have to be really intentional about what we stock,” Clarke said. She plans to rotate the collection based on themes the town may be celebrating, and she also wants to feature local authors.
“The Provincetown Bookshop has been influential in the lives of people for 90 years,” Clarke said. “I want it to continue to be that memorable place.”