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The Toadstool named NH Retailer of the Year

  • Holly and Willard Williams, owners of the Toadstool Bookshops, received the NH Retailer of the Year award from the NH Retail Association. Courtesy photo—

  • Holly and Willard Williams, owners of the Toadstool Bookshops, along with employees Jeff Osgood and Lowell Morris, accept the NH Retailer of the Year award. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/27/2021 4:23:35 PM

The Toadstool Bookshops owner Willard Williams said every retailer in the state should be recognized for what they went through over the final nine months of 2020.

Last year was anything but easy for those in the retail business in New Hampshire and across the country, Todastool Bookshops included. And recently, The Toadstool, with locations in Peterborough, Keene and Nashua, was honored with the NH Retailer of the Year by the NH Retail Association.

“I think any retailer that’s still in business after last year deserves an award,” Williams said.

Williams called the award unexpected, even though he knew a customer had nominated The Toadstool for the annual award that recognizes a retailer in the state who has met the highest standards of excellence by showing creativity and initiative so their business thrives and provide excellent customer experiences.

“That was really a nice recognition and really appreciated,” Williams said.

Williams said 2020 was indeed a challenging year, filled with all kinds of ups and downs.

When the state essentially shut down non-essential business, The Toadstool closed all three of its locations in March and remained closed to in-person shopping until June. But during that time they worked to keep the website up to date so patrons would know what books were coming out and switched to a curbside model to keep the business running.

“April and May were pretty bad in terms of sales,” Williams said, saying for those two months the store was down 50 to 60 percent.

They had to reduce the staff, but Williams said they were able to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan, “which was very helpful to us.”

They reopened in June and took every measure to reconfigure the store to make it safe for both employees and customers.

“We tried to do everything we could so people would feel comfortable coming in,” Williams said.

One of the things that has made The Toadstool a place people want to shop is the open invitation to linger and browse. But in the interest of everyone’s safety, they took out the chairs typically filled with customers thumbing through a potential purchase and streamlined the experience so people could come in and get what they needed in the most efficient way possible.

“But it’s exactly the opposite of what we’ve always tried to do,” Williams said.

The used book section of the business took a big hit early on and took a while to come back. Other challenges included the inability to meet with sales reps and the delays in book releases that had previously been announced.

“As we look back now, the titles that came out in March and April kind of sat here,” Williams said.

They couldn’t host in-person book launches and made the switch to online platforms. Williams said bookstores around the country did the same and “those worked to some extent.”

Once the store reopened in June, Williams said customers came back almost immediately, while others stayed with the curbside ordering.

“It started to quickly pick up,” he said. “That was probably a response to pent up demand.”

It was also a sign of the importance customers placed on The Toadstool.

“It was nice to know that people cared about local businesses,” Williams said. “The support we got from people who wanted to make sure we stayed in business was appreciated.”

As more people switched to the online model for their shopping needs, Williams said it could have led to disastrous results for the local shopping local movement. But so far, the customers have come back and it showed Williams their place in the community.

“People started realizing if all their purchases were going out of town, the local businesses would never be able to make it,” he said.


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