by Carla Occaso
Many people love walking around Montpelier and poking around the little shops, especially the book shops. Downtown Montpelier has two well-established bookstores: Bear Pond Books (est. 1973) and Rivendell Books (est. 1992). It turns out these stores are owned by the husband and wife team of Rob Kasow and Claire Benedict. To local Montpelier residents this might be old news, but if you live outside city limits, this might be something of a romantic surprise.
Kasow told The Bridge in a recent interview at their joint office on the second floor of Bear Pond Books that they started off in the bookselling business when they bought Rivendell 12 years ago after seeing it for sale on the Internet. However, the couple had never been to Montpelier before. Rob said he had been working in another state as the owner of three paint and wallpaper stores at the time. The couple said they saw the store for sale online and decided to buy it in 2002. Then, in 2006, they bought Bear Pond Books from long-time owners Michael Katzenberg and Linda Prescott. Each store has its own niche and Rob runs Rivendell while Claire runs Bear Pond.
Rivendell is 70 percent previously owned books and 30 percent new books. Rob buys used books from people in exchange for store credit. When asked how technology has affected business, Rob said he uses technology mostly to sell books online, such as rare books, autographed first editions and antiquities, “but so is everyone else in the world.” Further, he said that since the economic downturn, business has “stabilized,” but has not really improved. He said he is always looking for items to sell besides the books. The best sellers are handmade leather journals. Bear Pond also has a healthy inventory of non-book items. Claire said some of the more popular items include stationery, cards, calendars, journals and novelty items.
Rivendell also has a large children’s section in the back that shares space with an enormous male Russian Desert tortoise named Varuca. The front has a wide selection of books, with the most popular being fiction, spirituality and cooking, according to Rob. As for personal reading preferences, Rob likes to read history, biography and political science while Claire leans toward fiction.
Therefore, Claire keeps a large fiction section in her store. Bear Pond Books contains exclusively new books including those by local authors and a large children’s section as well. The most popular genres there are fiction, history and cooking, according to Claire. The store is having a busy lineup of events in the immediate future as well. There will be a cookbook event on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. called called a “Cookbook Review.” On hand for event will be Jess Turner, owner of Capital Kitchen located on State Street, along with Bear Pond staffers Lynne Vitzthum and Helen Labun-Jordan. In addition, the store has a Not-Just-Fiction Club meeting Nov. 12, a picture book and nature event on Nov. 15, a reading event with Barre author Katherine Paterson on Nov. 18 and a Mystery Book Club meeting on Dec. 1.
And, when asked what he likes about running a bookstore, Rob replied, “what I like is that it is selling a product that makes people happy.”