Reeds sell iconic Misty Valley Books to another Vt. independent

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

This morning, a Chester institution changed hands as Bill and Lynne Reed sold Misty Valley Books, which they have owned for 15 years, to Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner, the owners of Phoenix Books, an independent bookseller with stores in Essex, Burlington and Rutland.

MVB's logo, Le Chat qui Lit.

MVB’s logo, Le Chat qui Lit.

In an interview with The Telegraph on Saturday, DeSanto said that in addition to retaining the store’s name and inviting the staff to stay on, the goal was to make the transition as seamless as possible. “Our intent is to keep intact all the traditions surrounding the store while adding a few new ideas from our experience of owning and operating three other stores,” said DeSanto. “Anything we might do will be tweaking. When someone comes into the store they won’t say ‘what happened here?’ They shouldn’t feel anything has changed.”

DeSanto said Phoenix Books will not bring in a new store manager but rely on the current workforce to run the business.  “We are looking for one or two employees to step up into a leadership role in the store,” said DeSanto. “We want to empower our Chester employees to make decisions. You won’t see the long arm of Phoenix Books forcing issues with them.”

Also, to maintain some local ownership, DeSanto said he will be looking for a minority partner to invest in the store and play a role in the business. This is a model that he believes was successful in opening the bookstore in Rutland.

The 32-year-old Misty Valley Books began life in Springfield, in the Vermont National Mall – the building that now houses Peoples Bank. Three years later, in 1987, Dwight Currie and Michael Kohlmann moved the business to the former IGA on the Chester Green and established a reputation for supporting debut authors with a program called New Voices. Buying the business in 2001, Bill and Lynne Reed continued the series and added one that highlights authors from Vermont.

MV Books New Owners M DeSanto R Reiner

DeSanto and Reiner have admired the author series that earlier owners and the Reeds have brought to Chester.

DeSanto and Reiner plan to continue both. “We have watched with admiration and even envy as Dwight and Michael developed New Voices and then Bill and Lynne continued it while bringing along Vermont Voices,” said DeSanto. “There’s no profit tossing those sorts of things to the side.” According to DeSanto, he and Reiner have asked the Reeds to help them with the next New Voices and Vermont Voices programs so “the transition will be seamless.”

With the exception of a three-year hiatus, DeSanto and Reiner have been in bookselling for 18 years beginning in 1995 with the purchase of the Book Rack in Winooski. The couple sold that store to an employee in 2004 but returned to the business in 2007 when they opened Phoenix Books in Essex, followed by a store on Bank Street in Burlington in 2012 and a third store on Center Street in Rutland last year. The company was one of five finalists for Publishers Weeklys 2016 Bookstore of the Year award. You can view a video on Phoenix here.

How can independent bookstores like Misty Valley and Phoenix thrive in the age of Amazon? “I like to think that there are things that indies do in common, that they do well,” said DeSanto. “We do good customer service and are involved with our communities. That shows up in the way we handle special orders, in our discount programs and school orders and in supporting the efforts of non profit organizations.”

MV Books Facade

The outside of Misty Valley Books with apartment above.

While Phoenix Books’ other stores feature modern fixtures with “slatwall” panels on the walls, DeSanto says there are no plans to make more than cosmetic changes to the Chester store. “With the change of ownership you’ll see an influx of fresh inventory and a freshening of sideline items like cards, games and toys, anything that’s not books,” said DeSanto. “We have a history of success with sideline items, but it won’t be that large of a presence.”

“We are happy to help them with the transition,” says Bill Reed. “But we have no right to meddle in their plans for the store. They have years of experience and are probably better business people than we were. They know about the business and they know about books.” Reed said that when he and Lynne put the store up for sale, they hoped it would continue as a local, independent bookstore. He adds that Phoenix Books has the best shot at making it sustainable.

‘We are happy to help them (DeSanto and Reiner) with the transition … They have years of experience and are probably better business people than we were. They know about the business and they know about books.’
Bill Reed
Former owner
Misty Valley Books


Reed recalls being approached by a friend in 2001 while he was shopping for groceries. “She asked, ‘do you want to buy a bookstore?’ and I said no.” At the time, he was teaching French at Black River High School while Lynne was commuting to Manchester, where she was handling marketing and events for Northshire Books. “We lived in Grafton and she was making that trip every day all year long and often at night.” In time though, they decided to buy the Chester bookstore and move into the apartment above it. But right after the sale, Bill was scheduled for a three-week school trip to China.

Reeds with DeSanto and Reiner-1

From right, Lynne Reed, Bill Reed, Renee Reiner and Michael DeSanto soon after they went to closing Monday morning. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

“Dwight and Michael stayed on for a week, but it was a baptism by fire for Lynne,” says Reed. “She had to learn the book business and handle the money-side of things.” After a few years, Reed says, he stopped teaching full time and began handling publicity and events. Then he and Lynne decided to buy the buildings from their landlord, Jack Coleman. Coleman stayed on until moving to a nursing home a few years ago and the Reeds moved into the house.

Over the years,Misty Valley Books has been a place to hear a poetry reading, discuss foreign policy, learn French and Italian or buy an oriental carpet. At the same time, the Reeds have turned a number of book lovers into booksellers, including current staffers Amanda Bourque, Kim Carson,  Sylvan Groth and John Hoover.  Over the past 20 months, Hoover has produced Good Reads, a column of book recommendations from the Reeds and his Misty Valley colleagues featured monthly in The Telegraph.

Bill Reed wore this sign on his back as he walked around the New England Independent Booksellers conference last October

Bill Reed wore this sign on his back as he walked around the New England Independent Booksellers conference last October

Last year, the Reeds decided to put the store up for sale and discussions with DeSanto and Reiner began after Bill was spotted wearing “Bookstore for sale” sign on his back at the New England Independent Booksellers Association conference in October. The visits and talks that resulted continued into the winter and were the most concrete of the many expressions of interest that the couple received.

In addition to selling the business, the Reeds have also sold the two buildings on The Green to DeSanto and Reiner, the home adjacent to the bookstore and the building housing the bookstore and an upstairs apartment. DeSanto and Reiner intend to rent out the house and continue to rent out the apartment.

As for Bill and Lynne Reed, they have purchased a 1784 house in Walpole, N.H., where Bill’s family has roots. Asked about their plans for the future, the Reeds say that in the short-term they will be working on their house and getting to know new neighbors.

“We used to go canoeing on the Connecticut and go to France every year, so we hope to be able to do more,” says Reed. “Lynne will continue singing with the Springfield Chorus and I’ve got some ideas I’d like to write about. We’ve had no second thoughts.”

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  1. Karl Decker says:

    Though far away, whenever we are up at our camp in Townshend, a trip to Misty Valley is always a must. At our last visit, not only did we pick up books, but also a great magic carpet, now enhancing a hallway…Good wishes to you Bill and Lynne… you shall be much, uh, missed (pun intended).

  2. Congratulations Bill and Lynne. Wishing you much success and happiness in your next phase of life.

  3. Ginny Gosselin says:

    I wish Bill and Lynne all the best for their future. They are wonderful people and I enjoyed seeing them when my work in advertising called for me seeing them on a regular basis. I am glad they are not leaving the area. … and may even run into them on occasion as I live in Charlestown and go to Walpole quite often to shop. So happy for them.

  4. Mieka says:

    Bill and Lynne Reed will be dearly missed at Misty Valley Books.
    We are thrilled to have this independent bookstore purchased by new owners.
    Welcome to Chester Phoenix Books!