Federal Street Books turns page, gets new owners

  • Federal Street Books in Greenfield is packed neatly with books. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Neil Serven, right, waits on a customer at Federal Street Books in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hillary Hoffman, co-owner at Federal Street Books in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Neil Serven, co-owner at Federal Street Books in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Neil Serven, left, co-owner at Federal Street Books in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hillary Hoffman and Neil Serven are the new owners of Federal Street Books. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2019 6:40:13 PM
Modified: 10/31/2019 6:40:00 PM

GREENFIELD — Federal Street Books has started a new chapter under the ownership of Hillary Hoffman and Neil Serven.

The couple bought the business from Tom Swetland and Patti Williams on Aug. 30 and spent a month and a half putting their own touch on the space before opening Oct. 12.

“It’s been a great swath of people, from people who just want a $1 book to people who haven’t been in here before and are like, ‘Wow, we didn’t know this was here,’” Hoffman said in the store this week. “We had some people in from Colorado that were going through town and a bunch of other folks from Connecticut who have come in.”

She and Serven purchased the business at 8 Federal St. for $35,000 and have reorganized the store’s inventory in an effort to offer improved access to sections. Hoffman said they have about 18,500 books available for browsing, with another roughly 12,000 in the basement, which is currently closed to customers.

Neither Hoffman nor Serven have previously owned a bookstore, though Hoffman worked in publishing for nearly 20 years, and her husband is a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster in Springfield and also works as an editor and “a writer, with a number of friends in the writing community.” Hoffman has also served two terms on the Greenfield Town Council and is a member of the Downtown Cultural District Commission.

“We saw the business up for sale and thought, ‘Let’s give it a go,’” Hoffman recalled. She is from rural Pennsylvania and Serven grew up in Lynn. They got married in 2012 and live near Greenfield Middle School.

The purchase of a brick-and-mortar bookstore in 2019, with the advent of Amazon and other online retailers, may confuse some, but these types of independent shops are seeing a resurgence. The Christian Science Monitor reports Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer of the American Booksellers Association, as saying the number of independent bookstores in the United States has grown by more than 50 percent (from 1,651 to more than 2,500) in the past decade. And sales in these stores grew nearly 5 percent last year.

These figures are attributed to ambiance and a desire to shop locally.

“Have a good day,” one visitor says to Serven after browsing the shop. “Thanks for being here.”

Serven said recommendations made to customers online are based on an algorithm, whereas meandering through a bookstore could lead you to something you didn’t even know you wanted to read about. Hoffman said book retail is more experiential nowadays.

“I think if folks come in here and browse — they’re already shopping downtown or they’re running errands — they want to come in and have a look around and walk away with something that’s not that expensive,” she said. “That’s probably what we’re providing, as opposed to ‘I can get you any book you want on the planet,’ because there’s a place where you can do that online.

“We’re sort of an offshoot of, almost, entertainment for folks and we’ve had a lot of people just come in and chat. Tom had that, too,” she added. “I think you have to be really targeted to your area and know your demographic.”

She also said a “brand-spanking-new bookstore” with books priced $20 to $60 would not succeed.

The store’s inventory includes books on science fiction, true crime, history, horror, religion, mystery and health, as well as graphic novels.

Federal Street Books is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and will have special extended holiday hours in November and December. Visit federalstreetbooks.com or the store’s Facebook and Instagram pages for more information.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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