PROVINCETOWN – East End Books, Jeff Peters’ six-year-old labor-of-love independent bookstore, is staying in “the ideal spot” for the foreseeable future.
On January 20, the space that East End Books has rented for the last six years was sold by artist Paul Wisotsky for $499,000 to Ptown Dreams LLC. Peters, the owner of East End Books, is a partner with two others in Ptown Dreams LLC. He has an option to buy out his two partners in five years. ** This story was originally published January 27, 2022 **
“It feels like it’s been a long road but an exciting one,” said Peters on the day of the closing. “It was exciting to sign on the dotted line.”
It has been quite a journey: From finding the perfect location, to opening a bookstore in the age of Amazon, to surviving a pandemic with the help of a GoFundMe campaign and the love of a community, to being able to purchase his space with, again, the help of a GoFundMe campaign and the love of a community, Peters has been focused and steadfast.
“It’s a great little success story,” said Steve Fischer, former executive director of the New England Booksellers Association.
“You have to have brains, but I think you have to have nerves of steel to go through everything he’s gone through and keep going,” said Fischer.
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The Perfect Space & Jeff Peters’ List Of Books
Peters was born in Wilmington, Delaware and moved to Miami, Florida when he was 9. He later moved later to Tallahassee to go to Florida State University. He has been visiting Provincetown for 40 years.
While Peters said that opening a book store is “something I wanted to do for a long time,” he has a very diverse background. “I’ve been steeped in multiple worlds over the years,” he said.
He is an attorney who served as senior assistant attorney general in Florida, a filmmaker, a poet, an essay writer, a fiction writer working on a novel, and an activist.
When Peters moved to Provincetown – his “favorite place in the world” – 10 years ago, he said, “I was in seasonal housing. I was moving around constantly.” But wherever he was living, he said, “I had a lot of daily walks in town.”
He was doing virtual legal work in Florida as well as working on other creative projects. But he was really hoping to find a space to open a bookstore, he said. “I would know it in my gut when I found it,” he said.
Peters said that he loved to stop and eat at Spindler’s, where he could look out at “a location that I loved.”
And one day on one of his walks he saw a “For Rent” sign on that location. It was a spot, “I thought multiple times would be ideal,” he said.
It was a gallery. The space was owned by the artist, who was closing his gallery. “We kind of knew each other,” said Peters of the owner. “We had a lot in common. He was from the literary world. His mother owned a book store. His sister worked in book store.”
“I told him the vision,” said Peters. “He said, ‘You’re exactly who should be in this space.”
Peters’ vision, including his dream inventory of books, had been developing for several years. “Every month, I was updating my book list,” he said. “I’m one of those people who keep a list of all the different books I read, and what I thought of them.”
His book list of “my eclectic taste” morphed over time into part of his business plan. “You need the cost of opening inventory,” he said.
With a clear vision of the inventory, Peters said, “The only place I could possibly eke out a living with a bookstore would be a place that is very walkable.” Provincetown, “easily accessible by bike or by foot,” said Peters, is his “favorite place in the world.” But, he noted, it is expensive.
But the space was perfect. “For so many reasons, it’s a standout location,” said Peters.
Behind the space, between it and Cape Cod Bay, was a parking lot. Unknown to Peters at the time, the parking lot would later be converted into a public park, making the location even better.
Cynthia Newberry Martin, whose most recent book is, “Tidal Flats,” did a reading for East End Books in that park. “It’s so cool to have the bookstore on one side of you and the water on the other side of you,” she said.
“Having the park behind him to have events, that is so key,” said Martin. “That’s why saving East End books in this particular spot was so important.”
Peters, who made public readings by authors a big part of his store’s culture, used the public park for readings. When the pandemic hit, the park became even more crucial, as did the increasingly necessary and acceptable practice of virtual events.
When he opened six years ago, Peters said, he felt both excitement and fear. “It was amazing to finally realize my dream, and I knew it was going to be challenging financially.”
“I didn’t have the resources to afford to run a business for a loss. I worked hard to meet my financial obligations.”
“Glorious dream” Suddenly Up For Sale
For a renter, especially in Provincetown, the story can begin the same way. Sorry, but the owner is going to sell the building/space — whatever it is — that felt like “yours” as long as you paid the rent on time.
Of course if you do not own it, it is not “yours.” A new landlord could raise the rent, find a new tenant, or take over the space for themselves.
When Peters got the news last fall that the space his business, East End Books, has rented for six years was for sale, it at first seemed like his business was facing an existential crisis.
“I felt like it [the bookstore] was a glorious dream come true, which may have to come to an end,” said Peters.
The good news was that the owner of the space, an artist friend who loves bookstores and has family in the bookstore business, gave Peters the right of first refusal to buy the space. “The problem was it was a bad time for me to get a bank loan,” said Peters. “We were struggling from the pandemic.”
While his business continued to operate with a successful online store, and Peters established a big social media presence and even had the foresight to have virtual events from even before the pandemic, he still needed help.
So like many independent bookstores, he had run a GoFundMe campaign campaign to stay afloat when the world shut down.
“Jeff is not the first person to use GoFundMe campaign to help his store through a hard time… A number of stores have gone to GoFundMe campaigns to survive,” said Fischer.
In fact, if you Google “Go Fund Me” and “bookstore,” East End Books shows up on page 4. Peters, by necessity, updated his pandemic GoFundMe campaign into a fundraising effort to buy the space, or at least make a down payment towards a loan.
That effort garnered, as of now, more than $25,000 in donations, the publicity that led to him finding the investors in Ptown Dreams LLC, and, most importantly, feedback that let him know his bookstore was a beloved part of this small town.
“It was very important to me,” said Peters. “Whether they gave five dollars or one thousand dollars, it didn’t matter. All the letters and all the encouragement helped keep my spirits up. With the GoFundMe campaign, and all the email and messages, it really was fantastic.”
“Ultimately, I ended up getting private financing, but I am continuing to also push the Go Fund Me,” said Peters.
“It’s been a lot but I am really excited, happy, and grateful that we get to continue to be part of this wonderful community,” said Peters.
“It’s a living, breathing entity.” – A Beloved Bookstore In An Artistic Town
“All of my favorite people are booksellers,” said author Christina Clancy, who lives half the year in Madison, Wisconsin and half in Palm Springs, California.
“They live in a world of ideas and emotion,” she said. “It’s an elevated way of existence,” she said. Clancy, the author of, “The Second Home,” held an author event at East End Books.
“A bookstore is often the cultural heart of the town,” said author Christopher Castellani, who lives half of the year in Boston and half in Provincetown. “Provincetown has such a rich artistic history. It’s been a haven for writers and artists for more than a century.”
East End books is “part of the lifeblood of the town,” he said. As for the books in the store, including Castellani’s book, “Leading Men,” Castellani said of Peters, “He’s an incredible curator.”
For an author, having a local bookseller on their side is crucial. “Discoverability is everything right now,” said Jamie Brenner, the author of “Blush” who lives in Philadelphia but visits Provincetown every year.
“Part of the bookstore experience is discovery,” said Fischer, “and you’re in good hands with Jeff. “He wants to carry what his customers want, and he gets to carry what they don’t know they want – yet.”
“Jeff is staying current with what’s being published,” said Martin. As for the bookstore, she said, “It’s a living, breathing entity. Everything is alive in there.”
“You take Jeff away from East End Books, and it’s just a book store,” said Martin. “He makes everything alive in there. And it’s not just about selling books. It’s like an old-fashioned pub, or like in the olden days, a library. People would meet up there. Talking and chatting.”
“He connects people to people. People to books. Books to people. He’s great,” said Martin. “He goes in all different directions.”
“He’s a connector,” it is said. Over and over again, the words echo through various interviews.
“He really loves putting people together,” said Castellani. “Every time you talk to him, he’s like oh, you really have to meet this person. And he’s deeply invested in getting the right books to the right people. He’s an excellent connector and an excellent curator.”
“He loves books more than anything,” said Martin. “Books and authors. And I swear he’s read everything in that store. It’s such a good feeling when you go in there.”
“It’s a combination of knowledge and care,” said Fischer. “It’s clear that he cares. That store sort of has his name on it. It’s not like somebody else owns it or does the buying or is behind the register.”
”You don’t go in that store and feel like it’s precious and you can’t pick anything up,” said Fischer. “It’s a very comfortable store.”
“And he’s so important to the community in Provincetown,” said Fischer, who splits his time between Cambridge and Martha’s Vineyard. “Look how many writers are there.”
“Look around the store,” said Fischer. “You’ll see Andrew Sullivan’s book, John Waters’ book, Michael Cunningham’s book. This is their local bookstore,” said Fischer.
In fact, in November, 2021, the television show 60 Minutes aired a profile of Sullivan, including a scene of him reading at East End Books.
Clancy said, “Provincetown wouldn’t feel like Provincetown if East End Books wasn’t there.”
“People have an unusual connection to their local bookstore,” said Fischer. “What reading and books do to people is a special thing, and then you add community into it and it is a strong connection.”
“He definitely cultivates community,” said Clancy. “It’s the kind of community that, as a writer, you dream being a part of.”
In fact, Peters has recently partnered with the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center to put a second, small bookstore on the grounds. It features mostly books by and about artists and writers who are associated with the Fine Arts Work Center, he said.
Provincetown is uniquely suited to support an independent bookstore,” said Brenner. “You can go to any beach town. There’s plenty of beautiful places,” she said, “but the thing about Provincetown is there is so much art, so many people that want to engage.”
Brenner, like all those interviewed for this story, had donated to the GoFundMe campaign to help Peters keep the space. “Without places like that bookstore, it runs the danger of becoming just another tourist town,” she said.
To contribute to East End Books GoFundMe campaign, go here
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