I had the good fortune the other day to talk with Marshall Smith, the owner of the Wellfleet Marketplace. We were having a little trouble finding the right place in the store to sell the Independent, as every spot on the newspaper shelf was taken. I thought it was a good excuse to call up the legendary retail entrepreneur, founder of the Paperback Booksmith, Videosmith, and Learningsmith stores.
He was back at his home in Cambridge, having quit his summer place in Truro near Horseleech Pond for the season. He told me that he had sold almost all of his stores years ago but still owned two bookstores, in Brookline and Cambridge. I asked him how he had come to buy the grocery store on Wellfleet’s Main Street.
“I’ve been coming to Wellfleet for 30 years,” he said. “About 12 or 14 years ago I wanted to retire. I knew that Joe Lema owned the market and he looked like he wasn’t happy. I told him I wanted to take a small piece of it, open a small bookstore there, and retire. He said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ Then one day I walked in and he said, ‘Would you like the whole thing?’ I couldn’t refuse. Luckily, I met Paul Souza, who said he would come down and run the store for me.”
We talked about books and newspapers and the future of the printed word. Marshall told me that he thinks starting a newspaper is not such a crazy idea.
“The conglomerates that are buying up all the local newspapers and cutting down the amount of local news — that’s not good for who we are,” he said. “I think people are going to see that and be more interested in print. That’s the experience I had with the bookstore. I’m still involved with Booksmith in Coolidge Corner. About 10 years ago, when Amazon was flying and online was in, people would come in to the store and say, ‘Are you going to make it?’ And we said, ‘We’re still here.’ ”
About five or six years ago, Marshall said, something changed. “People came in and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. I still have my Kindle but I don’t want to read it. I need a good printed book that I can hold.’ ”
We talked about the future of Main Street and its empty storefronts. I asked him if he might buy the beautiful old News Dealer building next door to the market and restore it.
“Unfortunately, I’m too old now to start something new,” he said. Marshall is 87. “I would have done it 12 or 14 years ago.”
The Independent now has its own display rack right next to the cashier’s station at the Marketplace. Sales of the paper there went from 25 copies to 126 copies last week. Thanks, Marshall.