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Tudor treasure

Sisters mark 30 years in business with independent bookstore and cafe

Barbara Shaffer and her sister Lynn Gonchar say they’ve never had a fight.

Lynn Gonchar and her sister Barbara Shaffer, owners of the Tudor Book Store in Kingston.

Times Leader Staff Photos/Fred Adams

Charles Butler of Wilkes-Barre enjoys a coffee at the Tudor Book Store as his wife shops in the store.

KINGSTON – Sisters Barbara Shaffer and Lynn Gonchar shared a room but had different interests as they were growing up. They agreed on one thing, though.

“We both loved to read, so we never fought about turning out the lights at bedtime,” Gonchar said. “In fact, I don’t remember us ever fighting.”

The harmony is evident as the co-owners of Tudor Book Shop and Café sit side-by-side, describing the business that celebrated its 30th anniversary in November. Tudor Book is the lone full-service independent bookstore in Luzerne County, and these days full-service means a lot more than selling fiction and nonfiction books.

Tudor Book now sells “fair trade” jewelry, toys, gifts and a large selection of stationery products, as well as tasty treats in its café.

“We just kept changing as the interests of our customers indicated,” Gonchar said.

That evolution has allowed Tudor Book to avoid the fate of hundreds of small bookstores across the nation that have closed in the past decade. But it has not completely blunted the effect of chain stores and Internet booksellers. A second store in Clarks Summit was closed in March and the original at 651 Wyoming Avenue has reduced its floor space somewhat.

The first shift at the Kingston store, made more than a decade ago, was adding the café, which features light meals, desserts and – of course – specialty coffees. The sisters ran across the combination while traveling in Tennessee.

“Both of us saw it and fell in love with it,” Gonchar said.

In addition to being a source of revenue, the café helps create a warm atmosphere and encourages more frequent visits, she said.

That works for Charles Butler, Wilkes-Barre, who sipped coffee while his wife shopped on a recent Monday. He also had a slice of cake, that day’s free anniversary feature.

Butler and his wife also patronize Barnes & Noble, but he said an added draw for Tudor is its owners and staff. “They’re nice people. That’s why we like coming here.”

Tudor Book wasn’t always a partnership. Shaffer opened the store on Nov. 17, 1976, in a building at the other end of the block.

It occupied only 144 square feet, and was one of the “Showcase Shops,” a group of specialty stores, all operated by women, in a Tudor style building. Two other local retailers, Pillow Talk and Looking Good, also got their start there.

Shaffer’s youngest child was in school at the time and she had gone to Wilkes College to get her MBA when she was invited to take a space in the complex.

“I knew about retail,” she said, since her family had operated Kurlancheek’s Furniture for two generations. But selling books was the only retail business she was inclined to take on. “I’m a reader,” she explained.

The business took off, and before long moved to a 1,000 square foot space that is part of the present store. Shaffer knew more help would be needed to run the larger store.

“I didn’t think I could do it alone,” Shaffer said, and mentioned to her sister that she was looking for a partner. The sisters then set out building the business, each playing to their strengths.

“We learned to understand what we do differently,” Gonchar said.

The division of duties continues today, with Shaffer concentrating on inventory and business office matters while Gonchar manages the sales floor.

In 1989 they decided to expand to Clarks Summit. As with other decisions, deciding who would manage the new location was no trouble.

“It was easier for me to be out of town,” Shaffer said. “Plus, I like to drive more.”

Like the Kingston original, that store flourished, doubling in size when a café and art gallery were added after Tudor took over the space next door in the Summit Shopping Center. Then Barnes & Noble and Borders arrived in Dickson City, just as Amazon.com was taking flight.

The store that once had attracted customers from Scranton, Hawley and Old Forge suddenly became entirely dependent on the Abingtons region.

First came downsizing into the original space and eventually the store was closed.

“It just became too expensive” to maintain the store in the face of declining sales, Shaffer said.

Joe Drabyak, president of the New Atlantic Booksellers Association, said the pattern is all too familiar. Independent bookstores numbered about 5,000 a decade ago; now there are only about 1,200, he said.

“It’s not just Barnes & Noble,” Drabyak said, but also chain discount stores that sell the most popular books at a discount. “Essentially they’re taking the top end;” what used to be bread and butter for independent stores.

Small stores can compete by serving their customers well and by getting involved in their community, Drabyak said. That’s something Gonchar, who preceded Drabyak as New Atlantic president, emphasizes both in the store and outside.

Tudor frequently hosts book signings and with the Times Leader sponsors the TLC Book Club. Gonchar also has been active in the Kingston Area Merchants & Professional Association, which she helped found in 2003. One of that organization’s missions is to promote local shopping, which supports businesses that recycle their profits through the community.

“Customer service I can’t emphasize enough,” Drabyak said. He pointed out that store owners know their patrons’ reading interests and can buy books to match. He said 180,000 titles were published last year in the English language, but only a small percentage were reviewed, and chain stores are reluctant to stock those that aren’t widely publicized.

Even when Tudor doesn’t have a particular book on hand, Gonchar said she orders daily from four distributors and most of them can deliver within a day.

Branching into new products and services also has helped Tudor Book. Gonchar points proudly to a corner of the store that holds racks of wedding stationery, “the largest selection in Wyoming Valley,” she says. There’s also a computer for customization and in-store printing for speedy delivery.

Gonchar said that books now represent about 60 percent of sales, with the café accounting for one-fifth and stationery, toy and gifts bringing in the rest.

Thirty years after starting the business, Shaffer, who is older by three years and “retirement age,” now is winding down. She works only two days a week, while Gonchar is running the store full time.

All of their children live outside the region and none are interested in the business, but Gonchar said she’ll keep going, “as long as people want us here.”

DETAILS

Tudor Book Shop and Café

Address: 651 Wyoming Ave., Kingston.

Owners: Barbara Shaffer and Lynn Gonchar. They are sisters.

Date founded: Nov. 17, 1976

Employees: 15, combined full- and part-time

Annual sales: Not disclosed, but books are 60%, café and other items, 40%

Tudor Book has not fully embraced the Internet for book sales, but has a Web site that emphasizes its custom stationery business. The site includes a list of coming events at the store. Go to www.tudorbookshopandcafe.invitations.com

Phone 288-9697. Inquiries also can be sent by e-mail to tudorbk@epix.net

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