GAMBIER — There aren’t too many businesses in Knox County celebrating their 180th anniversary this year. One that is, was founded by Bishop Philander Chase as a combination general store and bookstore in 1829, offering everything from educational reading for students of Kenyon College, to squirrel traps for area residents still clearing frontier woodlands for farms and houses.
Since then, the Kenyon College Bookstore has weathered many ups and downs, ranging from being acclaimed as the best independent bookstore in the country in the 1970s, to recent years, which have seen college and community members pining for “the good old days,” when even a mention of the bookstore would bring a sparkle to people’s eyes.
The person charged with the mission of bringing that sparkle back is Hugh Resnick, an alumnus of Kenyon from the Class of 1991. After a career that has mixed retail management and arts administration, Resnick decided to return to Gambier to take on the challenge of restoring the bookstore’s reputation.
“My job is to restore it to its former glory, but within a 21st century context,” Resnick said.
He explained that the world of book retailing has changed over the years, what with massive, Internet-based retailers dominating the trade. But the Kenyon College Bookstore always made its impact through interesting, unexpected finds, as opposed to mass marketing, and Resnick aims to return the store to the kind of stock that makes browsing a joy.
Resnick serendipitously heard about his alma mater’s search for a bookstore manager just two days before the application deadline last summer. He got in just under the wire, and went on to win the position, starting Dec. 15. His wife and children are planning to move to the area from Indiana at the end of the school year.
Resnick’s plan for the first three to six months is not to get rid of anything currently in the store, but to rearrange what is there, and to start building up stocks of books, which are low. Popular past items such as plush toys will be returned to the store, although there are no plans to return to having any significant quantity of used books.
Other plans include redesigning the lighting to replace the dull, old-style fluorescent lighting with something warmer. Resnick said one important way to keep things fresh is to frequently change displays, focusing on different subjects and authors, so that community members don’t find the store the same every time they walk in.
“I want this to be a neutral space for the free exchange of ideas,” Resnick said, contrasting it with the classroom or even a professor’s office, where the student is there to listen. When a student is standing in line with a professor at the checkout counter, Resnick said, it changes the dynamic and allows for a less formal flow of ideas.
To expand the store’s role as part of Kenyon’s literary atmosphere, Resnick hopes to not only continue hosting book-signing events and readings, but to expand those offerings to include the kind of figures who wouldn’t otherwise be expected at Kenyon, such as popular authors, humorists and more.
Resnick said he is eager to hear suggestions and comments from the community, and can be reached at the bookstore, or via e-mail at . In short, Resnick said he hopes to restore the bookstore’s greatness by taking a few tips from the past, although not all.
“No squirrel traps, now,” he said with a grin.