Turning the page: Macaluso's re-opens to a brand new chapter
By Richard Gaw
Simply told, the story of how an old bookshop came to find its new life in Kennett Square this past year is the tale of what happens when the power of history, tradition and legacy meet with ambition and a desire to nudge that legacy even more forward into the future.
Throughout his 85 years, Thomas Peter Macaluso planted his life's work in two different arenas, each of whom are connected by the study and appreciation of literature. For 37 years, he taught English at Monmouth College in New Jersey, the Ohio State University and at Delaware County Community College. Overlapped with his years in the classroom, he served as the proprietor of Macaluso Rare & Fine Books for 40 years, located at the corner of South Union and Cypress Streets in Kennett Square. It was a six-room treasure trove of data, stories, authors and information, where thousands of rare books, maps and prints were displayed.
When Macaluso died on March 15, 2018, the volumes of his inventory remained in place, as did the oval sign on the book shop's front porch. For the next year, the store continued to be run by Laurie Watkins, a friend of Macaluso and his wife, Brenda. Several months after Macaluso's passing, Kennett resident John Lynn stopped into the store, in the hopes that he would be able to stumble into a rare find.
“I asked Laurie if she was the new owner,” John said. “She told me, 'No, I'm not, but we're looking for one. Are you interested? I said, 'Maybe.'”
Immediately, John went home to discuss the idea with his wife, Stefanie. It could be a perfect next chapter for them, he suggested. Stefanie would be able to retire from her finance role for a global manufacturing company, and John could begin to transition to retirement from his corporate work and join his wife full time.
“I had been considering the idea of doing something different, so when John told me about the business, I didn't even need him to finish what he was telling me,” Stefanie said. “I knew exactly where his idea was going, and that we would move forward with this.
“We had talked about concepts of running a small business, so the idea of owning a bookstore wasn't that far removed from what I was picturing for us in the future.”
Together, the Lynns purchased Macaluso Rare & Fine Books in April 2019. Among their first decisions as new business owners was that the book shop – and the oval sign that bears its name – would initially remain the same.
At first, the Lynns operated the book shop in the original configuration that Macaluso had created, but shut the business down in June. For the next five months – with the help of contractors – the Lynns transformed the store, with renovations that included taking down ceiling in front room, changing light fixtures, replacing flooring, repairing staircases, upgrading wiring in all of the rooms and adding some personal touches such as vintage furniture and area rugs.
By late fall, the sweat equity had paid off, and Macaluso’s re-opened to the public during the first week of November. In exchange for being exposed to books that range from new bestsellers to gently used to an entire catalog of rare books from Macaluso’s inventory, visitors have heaped much praise – and thanks -- on the shop’s new owners.
“Every single day, we have people tell us that they are so glad that we're continuing this space as a bookshop,” John said. “They have also been very complimentary about the changes we've made, but most importantly, they're happy that we're continuing Tom's legacy to people in the community.”
During a time when the bookselling industry has become monopolized by the phenomenon of online sales, the new Macaluso’s joins the Kennett Resale Book Shoppe across the street, the Kennett Library and the popular Pop Up lending libraries throughout the borough as stalwart saviors of getting books into the hands of readers the old-fashioned way.
“While it is true that people can go online and get a variety of books, they can't establish a relationship with their bookseller,” John said. “Stefanie and I thought long and hard about our business model against the dynamic of online book selling, but one piece of data that we saw had to do with a resurgence of independent bookstores. We thought, 'Let's see if we can catch that wave,' believing that if we can provide the right bookstore experience for people, we will be able to differentiate ourselves from online sales.”
“We wanted to establish a place where people can feel comfortable with the idea of sitting over a book they’re considering and a cup of coffee [which is provided free of charge at Macaluso’s],” said Stefanie, who envisions Macaluso’s as the host of book clubs, writing groups and author readings and special events. “When you’re looking for books online, you’re looking for something specific that you’ve heard of. What we hope to create here is to establish a place where you can find something you didn’t know that you were looking for.
“By ordering online, you don’t have the tactile feeling of flipping through the book before you buy it, and you never get to accidentally stumble into an out-of-print book that you previously didn’t know existed.”
John and Stefanie Lynn have not only purchased Macaluso’s, they have also bought all of the chapter markers associated with it; namely, the opportunity to carve their own niche into the firm history that Macaluso left behind.
“Tom was one of a kind, and we know we'll never be able to fill his shoes, but he's left a legacy in the form of books that are still a part of the store,” John said. “He did so many other things to promote the love of books and reading, and his legacy has left us with all of the goodwill that he shared with the community he loved.
“That's a great starting point for any business,” he added. “Stefanie and I are starting off with a lot of positive energy, and we think that's a good foundation for our own future here.”
Macaluso Books is located at 130 S. Union Street in Kennett Square.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.