After nearly 50 years in business, Toadstool Bookshops up for sale

  • Willard Williams of the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough. File photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/13/2021 3:39:21 PM

After close to 50 years in the book-selling business, Willard Williams is ready to turn the page.

Williams, the founder and co-owner of the Toadstool Bookshop and its locations in Peterborough, Keene and Nashua, was named the 2020 NH Retailer of the Year. He recently announced his intention to sell the business that includes the inventories in all three stores as well as the building that houses the Peterborough store in Depot Square.

Williams said the idea for a bookstore in Peterborough came out of a conversation at the family’s Peterborough home back in the early 1970s. The wide ranging discussion included a mention of a bookstore in Vermont that was for sale. It quickly turned into the lack of a place in Peterborough to buy books and the seed was planted.

Many of Williams’s siblings became investors in the business, but it was he and his older sister Jenny who were the ones to see it become a reality. Williams said the family home was filled with books, but admitted they didn’t know the first thing about selling them.

“But we decided to give it a try, knowing absolutely nothing about it,” he said. “We were all big readers and books mattered to us.”

They opened the doors to the Toadstool Bookshop in May of 1972 in an 800 square foot space on Main Street in Peterborough. Jenny took classes in booksellers school through the New England Book Sellers Association and through meetings and seminars learned more about the business of owning a book store.

There were a number of wholesale booksellers back then, so Williams said they would go to Boston to get books to put on the shelves. He said it soon became evident that the local community felt the same way they had about a need for a book store.

“It was really well received right from the beginning,” Williams said. “A lot of people were patient with us and we learned a lot from what books people were asking for.”

Given the space limitations, Williams said they typically only had one or two copies of each title.

“Instead of having five copies of one title, we had one copy of five titles,” he said.

It soon became apparent the demand could not be met in such a small space, even after expanding the Main Street location.

“For a long time we looked for somewhere larger, but we wanted to stay downtown,” Williams said.

As they looked for a bigger building to house the growing Peterborough business, Williams said the decision was made to expand to other areas in the region. In 1983, the Keene store was opened in the Colony Mill, and has subsequently moved downtown, and by 1989 the Milford location was added. In 2019, the Milford store was relocated to Nashua.

In 1992, Williams said they purchased the old Yankee Publishing building in Depot Square, where the store resides today. Despite tripling the size, “it filled up quickly,” he said.

Even with a major chain bookstore opened in Keene and the ability for people to shop for books online, the Toadstool continued to be a local place to not only purchase titles, but a spot to get insight into books that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

In the early days, Williams and Jenny worked long hours on alternating days for little to no pay. To supplement, he would work as a carpenter three days a week.

“But as the store took off, I dropped the carpentry part and worked here full-time,” he said. Jenny eventually backed away from the daily operations and for many years Williams and his wife Holly have run the business.

The Toadstool is set up as a corporation, as his siblings and cousins own shares. He said the financial status of the business is strong, so the reason for selling is merely a way to back off a little bit as he approaches 70 years old.

“I don’t feel an urgency to sell it right away,” Williams said. “I just think it’s time for a new generation, some new energy, some new blood.” But at the same time, Williams said it must be the right person who has a similar love of books and a community-minded approach to running the business. He said a few people have already expressed some interest.

“That’s why finding the right person is the goal,” he said. “It’s definitely a symbiotic relationship.”

Williams said they would be willing to help new owners with the transition.

“There are certain aspects you can only learn being part of the business,” he said.

The sale would include the inventory in each store, which is about 60,000 books in each, and the Peterborough store building. He said the new owner would gain a great and knowledgeable staff to help with the transition.

“It’s my legacy in a sense,” Williams said.

Anyone interested in pursuing this transition should contact Willard at books@ptoad.com. 


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