Whiting bookstore turns the page
WHITING — When Bulwagga Books and Gallery closes its doors after 15 years in business, Whiting will lose one of two retail businesses in town.
It won’t be the end of Bulwagga Books — owners John Travis and Ellen Kurrelmeyer will relocate to a new house in Middlebury and reopen as a smaller, appointment-only shop. But the closing marks the end of a long run that established Bulwagga Books as both a destination for book collectors and a quirky stopping point for the curious along Route 30.
Travis and Kurrelmeyer moved to Vermont from New York City in order to open the bookshop in September 1996. Travis had worked in the textbook division of Macmillan Publishers, and Kurrelmeyer had worked as a stage design teacher at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn.
“I always just hung around bookstores in New York, so I thought I should open a bookstore,” said Travis, 76. “When I got laid off, I figured I would do it.”
So he and Kurrelmeyer, now 54, began looking for a place to set up shop, but finding an affordable space in a good neighborhood was difficult. Kurrelmeyer’s family was from Vermont, so they decided to take a look around on a trip north.
“Then we found this place,” said Kurrelmeyer.
The building, which sits at the intersection of Route 30 and the Leicester-Whiting Road and was painted bright pink at the time, formerly housed an antique shop and before that a general store.
It was within their price range, full of history, and it had plenty of room for books. As an added bonus, the couple was able to move in right above the shop, and the town’s post office is in the same building. Kurrelmeyer also serves as the alternate postmaster for the town.
Travis and Kurrelmeyer estimated that they have kept the bookstore’s inventory around 10,000 and 12,000 books over the years, sourcing them from all over. Despite the move, Travis has continued to travel down to his favorite used book shops in New York, loading up the car with the best bargains he could find and hauling them back up to Vermont with him.
The husband-and-wife couple also attend auctions from time to time looking for copies of rare books, but many of the books in stock are ones that have fallen into their lap. Over the years, people from all over have brought bags and boxes of books to the store to sell.
Travis is picky about the quality and condition of the books he keeps in the store, and over the years he and Kurrelmeyer have found some gems. Among their most prized books is a hefty Lossings Field Guide to the War of 1812, published in the late 1800s and still in very good condition. The book was mislabeled at an auction, and Kurrelmeyer said it’s so rare that she can’t find another copy to compare it to, so they don’t know how much it’s actually worth.
After they started Bulwagga Books, business boomed.
“The first six or seven years it was terrific,” said Kurrelmeyer.
But she said many of the regular patrons left the area or just stopped coming, and the Internet has made it easier for people to skip the bookstore and find rare and used books on the web.
As traffic slowed, the two began contemplating a change.
“We decided there was more to life than that,” said Kurrelmeyer.
Travis and Kurrelmeyer put their entire inventory on sale on Memorial Day, and last week Kurrelmeyer said they’d sold off about 40 percent.
“The liquidation has brought back a lot of people who used to come here,” she said.
Now the two are looking forward to turning the page. They’ll be moving into Middlebury to a Springside Road home they’ve owned for a few years, right in the village. The garage will house the new bookstore, which will specialize in classics, plus Greek, Latin and other foreign language books.
Whiting Town Clerk Grace Simonds said the move will affect the town in other ways as well, as the couple is involved with the town and the Whiting Community Church. Kurrelmeyer serves on the town selectboard, and as the town’s representative to the Otter Valley Union High School board.
Travis and Kurrelmeyer are hoping that the building falls into good hands.
“It’s been a store for over a century,” said Travis.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].
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