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“But I’m retired,” Scott Montgomery often says as he pushes off on his bicycle. Maybe he’s already biked ten miles, did some yoga, walked on the beach, kayaked around Green Hill Pond. This is his gentle way of telling me that he’s helped enough for the day and he will be back on another. There is so much to know about running a bookstore and event space but Scott doesn’t seem to mind endless, repetitive questions. As someone who managed the Harvard Co-op Bookstore in Cambridge, MA for over ten years and built a career opening bookstores for Barnes & Noble, Books on the Pond’s fortune in having him as a mentor feels like a big deal. After two years at 289 Narrow Lane, opening during a pandemic and trying to stay operating in year two of it, BoP has experienced a multitude of issues that perhaps even someone like Scott couldn’t foresee.
We have argued about different types of retail accounting among other operational conundrums. He has tried to keep my spirits up and tells me often to keep fighting. It hasn’t been easy creating a gathering place for writers, artists, readers and people wishing to learn from our guest teachers; sometimes recently I believe I am out of gas (capital, labor, and now, inventory). Perhaps our community in South County Rhode Island doesn’t really want or need a place like BoP. Perhaps Covid isn’t a good time to start such a place. Perhaps it takes time to build something like this. Books. Art. Conversations.
Recently Scott accompanied me to Providence to take part in the Harbor One Bank and Hey Rhody Magazine Small Business Pitch Contest. The big winner would take home $10,000 in cash to help get through this maddening time in our country’s history. When a customer asked Scott how it went, his answer was typical Montgomery. He hesitated, thought about his answer.
“Well… it was one of those strange things you find yourself at,” he replied carefully.
BoP lost handily. The Narragansett sea kelp farmer took the cash – but then the judges also decided that the other contestants were so impressive that they would unexpectedly give out additional cash prizes to three of the other contestants – veterans making hot sauce, a liquor company and dancers who advertise their business twerking on Instagram.
When one puts one’s heart and soul into an endeavor, the result can be fabulous. There is something, I know Scott knows, when children admire the train careening around the top shelf of the fiction barn or hunt for the wooden animal sculptures on 2.2 acres of barns and lawn; or young adults discover their favorite fantasy books; or a teenage girl picks “The Diary of Anne Frank” to discover that she too was just a girl with the same boy crush concerns; or any of the myriad reasons people come to learn and educate or entertain themselves, choosing “the book for every season” — becomes intensely personal. It is a deep responsibility knowing that this little, tiny experience of finding and discovering a book has the potential to save a life. Or at the very least, to make it better.
Scott did not speak when we drove back the whole way to South County. I finished ranting and being a sore loser and waited expectantly for him to chime in. He had experience listening to many pitches as the manager of the Harvard Co-op Bookstore. I wanted him to tell me where I stumbled, where I fell, what I did poorly. But he said nothing. In the morning he rode over on his bike and informed me that sea kelp is a huge growing industry in Rhode Island. We didn’t mention the other winners. By telling me this, my mentor explained it to me perfectly. It was nothing, and never would be, something I did wrong.
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