Monday, October 3, 2022

‘This store is about all kinds of stories’: Uncertainty looms for Mermaid Books; set to close this month

The storefront of Mermaid Books on Prince George Street, nearly 11 years ago. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Mermaid Books)

The next chapter for Mermaid Books, the independent bookstore tucked away under Kilwins on Prince George Street, is undecided.

And you can thank the coronavirus pandemic for this one.

The store recently announced the decision to close Nov. 30 on their Facebook page, but the announcement left a lot of unanswered questions for the patrons.

Hatley Mason, who has been the owner for the last 11 years, said he has been looking around but hasn’t found “a good situation.”

He added he’s not sure when they’ll reopen nor where the store could possibly move to.

“People have changed their habits, especially recently,” Mason said. “The customers we used to have who would come by every week or so, they have disappeared.”

Over the summer, the store was closed for nearly four months. During that time, Mason said he was trying to figure out how to reopen the store safely, adding he has no interest in moving online because it isn’t the same.

“Our business is very much a person to person business,” he said. “We don’t really want to be online or anything.”

Mermaid Books came into the Williamsburg scene around 1977, when Mary Lewis Chapman opened her store because she wanted to see a place where people could find a good book to read at a good price, Mason said.

At the time, there were several other bookstores in the area, including the Book Press on Jamestown Road, but none like Mermaid Books.

“It was more of a reading culture back then,” Mason said.

Fast forward to today when Mermaid Books has become a staple of the downtown Williamsburg storefronts.

“When I first bought the store, I wanted to preserve and protect the old restoration,” Mason said.

He spoke of when the town of Williamsburg was first rediscovered back in the 1920s, the motto of the project was “May the future learn from the past,” and it was this spirit Mason wanted to keep alive.

Mason said one of his favorite things to do each year was host the Fur Tree for Heritage Humane Society. Patrons could buy a ribbon to place on the tree in honor of their pets. Mermaid Books had the tree decked out in red ribbons at the top of the stairs leading down to their store for many years.

Another time, Mermaid Books had a book signing for Ivor Noël Hume, the archaeologist who first uncovered the colonial history of Williamsburg. Mason said he continued to foster a relationship with Hume until his death in 2017.

And now Mermaid Books has reached a cliffhanger in their story.

“It kills us not to be open, but it’s just not viable these days. The overhead and the expenses are just more than you can possibly make,” he said.

While the future of Mermaid Books is uncertain, Mason said he may retire early or pick up painting once again.

“My goal has always been to give you good content with the right book, at the right price and have it right here,” Mason said.

Mermaid Books will continue to be open until Nov. 30. They will be open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 5 p.m. They are closed Tuesdays.

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