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New London's bookstore got bigger and better

When late last year I visited New London's first new bookstore to open, since, well, the time when State Street was still a creepy, empty pedestrian walk, I heard a lot of apologies from owner Chris Jones.

Indeed, Jones and his partner, Gina Holmes Jones, had hurried to open their new Monte Cristo Bookshop toward the close of the holiday shopping season, and they were busy still painting and putting together bookshelves.

The opening inventory in the Washington Street store was also on the makeshift side, largely the remnants of a closed Borders store they bought on Craigslist. Their starting capital was about $10,000, which they raised in a crowd-funding campaign.

When I caught up with Jones this week, inside the bright new Monte Cristo Bookshop, which has moved to the corner of Green and Golden streets downtown, just the toss of a book from the municipal parking lots on Eugene O'Neill Drive, Jones noted that he no longer has to make apologies for the store.

The shop re-opened in its new space, a sunny room with a high, tin ceiling and lots of big plate glass windows, just before Sailfest, and Jones said they packed in the customers that weekend, a cool refuge where people came to relax and browse.

Monte Cristo is certainly now a full-fledged bookstore, with a big inventory of both new and used books, books in lots of different categories, from a big selection of young adult fiction to bestsellers, biography and children's books.

The move turned out to be the product of good timing, Jones said. Their old landlord had new tenants lined up and their new landlord was happy to have them, in a building that is being renovated to include a collection of artist studios and work spaces.

The store has already brought a nice cultural vibe to Green Street and the surrounding neighborhood.

One of the customers who stopped in to see Jones Friday was a playwright on her way to her regular Friday lunch of playwrights who gather each week for the bean soup special at the Dutch Tavern.

Next to the Dutch is a new skateboard shop where some young men were ogling a wide assortment of boards. Around the corner on State Street, Mangetout, the organic restaurant, had a blackboard in the window advertising its Friday night dinner specials.

Some of the passers-by on the busy street corner included a gaggle of lawyers on the way back to their downtown offices, carrying plastic bags from the midday Friday farmer's market on the Parade. I also saw two men walking back up from City Pier, their fishing poles tucked under their arms.

Downtown is looking as lively lately as I have ever seen it, and a bookstore is a remarkable new asset.

Chris and Gina Jones gave the city a great gift with the Monte Cristo, which regularly holds author readings and community events and which features the work of more than 100 local writers.

A rack in the front of the store even features the top 10 bestselling local authors.

Chris and Gina Jones did it all during an especially busy year, with Gina giving birth to their first child. The baby was born June 23. The new store opened July 12.

"Having a baby is such a nice thing to come home to," Chris Jones said. "It's something that makes me forget about all the work I have to do.

"We have a baby store and a real baby."

Jones said they now have so many books that it took 25 trips in a U-Haul truck to move them all.

They moved the store's piano by having five guys push it down State Street.

They didn't get a parade permit, Chris Jones said, although so many people stopped to watch, they might have needed one.

They did, though, get a green light in front of City Hall.

While I was chatting with Jones Friday, he was setting up folding chairs for an event that night that was to include both a writer reading from his new work and a dance performance.

The notion of New London aspiring to be a hip little city got spoiled when it was mixed up with the phase of redevelopment that included taking people's homes by eminent domain.

That's too bad, since New London, week by week, is looking more and more like a hip little city.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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