ROCKPORT — Toad Hall, the unique bookstore that has been a community staple for 45 years, will close by the end of the year, its board of directors announced Sunday.
The store opened on the country's first Earth Day in 1972 and has used its proceeds to support regional environmental projects. But Rae Padilla Francoeur, a member of the board of directors, said competition from online book sales, a decline in tourism, and the seasonal nature of business in a tourist town has left the independent store struggling to stay afloat.
"It's very sad," Francoeur said. "We've tried many things to keep the bookstore going. We had a lot of things we were up against."
The store will remain open for the rest of the summer and early fall, directors said in a press release. Francoeur said the directors plan to sell the business and hope another bookstore will open in town. The store operates as a nonprofit under the umbrella organization Essex County Ecology Center.
"The board's No. 1 goal is to pay the bills, which I think we'll do," Francoeur said. "The No. 2 goal is to do anything possible to keep a bookstore in Rockport, because it's just devastating to think there won't be one."
If another bookstore does open, it probably would not be in Toad Hall's location at 47 Main St., Francoeur said. The 1926 building is the original home of the Granite Savings Bank and is owned by the family of the late Buck Robinson, who founded Toad Hall.
"As iconic as that structure is, it's very hard for people to go up and down those spiral stairs, and it's dark in there," Francoeur said. "It wouldn't be the place a new business owner would choose to have a bookstore."
The future of Toad Hall has been in doubt for the last year, so the announcement of its closure might not come as a total surprise. Francoeur said the store held a fund-raising dance last spring, and some people have been buying a book a month in an effort to support the store.
Francoeur said the Robinson family tried to help by giving the store a break on its rent. Winslow Robinson, Buck's son, is a board member. The store also cut back on its donations to environmental projects during the difficult financial times.
"The community has been wonderful," Francoeur said. "If only there was a way to keep it going, believe me we would have done it."
Toad Hall, named after the estate in Buck Robinson's favorite childhood book, "The Wind in the Willows," has given more than $120,000 in grants over 45 years to scores of projects initiated by Cape Ann schools, according to the directors.
"My father would have been proud of the bookstore's long record of service," Winslow Robinson said in a press release.
Robinson said the store will host a "community celebration" to mark Toad Hall's 45 years of service to the community.
Robert Buchsbaum, Toad Hall's board president, said the bookstore has "played a key role in the region's cultural life."
"One of our greatest hopes is that Rockport continues to be home to an independent bookstore," Buchsbaum said in a press release. "Despite our best efforts and the dedication and hard work of our staff, the store cannot survive as it is currently configured. We hope that there are members of the community with a new vision and the resources to retain an independent bookstore to serve this culturally rich community and its avid readers."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.