B reakwater Books has been in Guilford for 45 years. Founded by two Marions—last names Herald and Young—it began as a general interest bookstore but has slowly taken on the imprint of its buyers. “This town has supported us for so many years,” says Liza Fixx, the new owner as of March 23. She says longtime customers now bring their children and grandchildren to peruse the winding shelves in search of something new to read.
Independent bookstores have had to adapt in the wake of big box stores and then online goliaths, and one of Breakwater’s strategies has been to prioritize breadth over depth. The small shop has a wide list—from French cookbooks to local history to a nautical section maintained in honor of co-founder Young’s passion for sailing—but only a few copies of each book at a time.
The back section of the store is separated by an azure arc, which adds fairytale flair to the children’s literature section on the other side. Fixx has spent most of her professional life as an elementary school teacher, and she says that expanding the children’s section is a priority for her. “I love working with our youngest customers and finding books for them,” she says, going on to marvel at the increasing popularity of graphic novels in the children’s section. “The genre is exploding by the day.”
But for smaller bookstores, riding trends is not always the best way to stay afloat. “The buyer for an independent bookstore has to know the customer base,” Fixx says. “There are some great books out there that may not sell well in our town… We know what our readers like to read, we’re very familiar with the books that are up and coming, and so we’re able to put the right book in their hands.”
Inside Breakwater, a customer searching for Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight, Moon was excited to learn about the upcoming release of Brown’s previously unpublished title Good Day, Good Night. A young boy went zipping ahead of his chaperone towards the blue arch, while another patron exclaimed at the Guilford-specific titles arranged near the front door.
Breakwater aims to be a place where you can experience books, as opposed to simply purchasing them. Chairs are settled throughout the store, and there are plenty of well-lit nooks that invite a reader to slow down and savor.
Fixx says many independent bookstores are considered sacred spaces in a community, and the people of Guilford are often struck by memories when they come into Breakwater. “People come in and say, ‘It’s so nice to be in a bookstore,’” she says, adding, “You smell the books, you touch the books. There seems to be a link to… your childhood… It transports [you] to another time and place.”
Breakwater is scheduled for renovations this spring—the first time work will have been done on the store in over three decades, Fixx says. “It’s going to be brightened up, freshened up, but the essence of the store will not change in any way.” It’s a delicate balance to maintain the space’s nostalgic air while continuing to move forward.
“People come not only to buy books, but sometimes just to be around books. To browse and exchange ideas,” Fixx says. “I think people need a space where they can come in and just take a breath.”
Written by Sorrel Westbrook. Photo #1 by Sorrel Westbrook. Photo #2 by Dan Mims.