New owner, name slated for Chester bookstore From avid reader to bookseller to store owner

Bookseller Vicki Thornton is set to take the reins of Chester’s iconic bookstore at the end of August. Photo by Cynthia Prairie.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Vicki Thornton loves to read. It was reading that brought her to work at Phoenix Books Misty Valley when the owner’s daughter and store manager, Katie DeSanto, was looking for some help in January to free her from the frequent days away from her East Hardwick home.

And it was her love of reading — and a persistent son — that finally pushed her to buy the 33-year-old bookstore, located at 58 The Common in Chester. “I love books,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning, “but I would have never thought of it as a career. It’s hard to get into the business when there are so few independent stores and Amazon is putting those out of business.” But Thornton studied accounting in college and has been a bookkeeper, so one vital aspect of the business was filled. And the other parts, she seemed to be picking up on the job.

In a press release, DeSanto calls Thornton, “a natural and I’m thrilled the store will find the energy and vigor it needs under Vicki’s full ownership.”

Essex-based Phoenix Books’ owner Mike DeSanto has been looking for a local partner since he bought the business and the attached buildings in May 2016. But in the past year and a half, he has been looking instead for a buyer of the business. The buildings that house the store, an apartment and a home remain listed for sale.

Thornton helps a customer who called in a request. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

In an interview at the bookstore Tuesday morning, Thornton said she and the DeSantos have been working on the purchase “for a couple of months. We had hoped that it would be by the end of July. But it took a bit longer.” The LLC wasn’t registered with the state until Aug. 7 and the closing is set to occur on Thursday, Aug. 29, at which time Thornton takes the reigns of the iconic store.

Thornton, 50, a Ludlow resident, is no stranger to those who frequent the Southern Pie Cafe just east on The Green. For a number of years, she has been involved in the pie-making ventures of her son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Leslie Blair. Thornton credits Scott’s persistence for helping to convince her to buy the business.

Blair Books & More: What changes, what won’t 

Thornton does plan on making some changes, starting with the name. Gone will be the well-known Misty Valley Books and the awkward Phoenix Books Misty Valley. The new name will be Blair Books & More. Thornton calls it “a fresh start to revitalize (the store) with its new name and a legacy for my children and grandchildren.”

She, of course, will continue to offer a large variety of new releases. “We have a lot of mystery lovers here, so I’d like to expand that. And Vermont books. That will stay. Those are popular with tourists and locals alike. … and history and biography.” And she’s happy to order books that are not in stock.

Thornton will keep the cards and stationery and continue with the single-author talks, mentioning mystery writer Archer Mayor and “Vermont Wild” series writer Megan Price as two noted locals who have new works on the horizon.

Grandson Jake Blair falls asleep reading at the bookstore. Photo by Vicki Thornton

But the “& More” reflects her desire to add local art and crafts that will complement the books. She offers as an example selling hand-crafted cutting boards alongside cookbooks. Thornton says she’ll play it by ear and ask for community feedback. She is also considering holding poetry slams.

Gone will be the magazine racks, replaced by a “locals corner” that will include a bulletin board, local business brochures and calendars. And she’d like to get Chester-Andover  Elementary School involved in the kids’ section, but she isn’t quite sure how … yet.

Thornton looks at Chester and sees a vibrant community. And she loves the store. “I feel that this space and where it is located is vital to the community. Can you imagine this as an empty space on The Green?”

Blair Books & More logo is still in development and she hopes to have a Grand Opening during the Chester Fall Festival in late September, when the new sign will be unveiled.

For the time-being, Thornton will be the lone employee of Blair Books. Her summer hours will continue as 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. During the winter, she expects to cut back to five days, and is considering closing on Monday and Tuesday.  That has yet to be decided. But her Sunday hours will change to 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Thornton can be reached at Blair Books & More at 875-3400.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Skye Payne says:

    Wonderful news! So happy to hear that the spirit of an independent book store will be back – and the ideas for the new store sound great.

  2. Lynne Reed says:

    Congratulations, Vicki! Lynne and Bill