Other Tiger book store closes up after 10 years

Robert Utter, owner of the Other Tiger bookstore in Westerly, packs up books Tuesday, as he prepares to close his business. The store will close on April 30.
Robert Utter, owner of the Other Tiger bookstore in Westerly, packs up books Tuesday, as he prepares to close his business. The store will close on April 30.

As he works to close his independent bookstore by the end of April, Robert Utter said the Other Tiger is in three modes.

"We're in turbo turn-back-the-books-to-the-publishers mode," said Utter, 60, who opened the store in Westerly with his sister and wife in 2003 and usually kept about 20,000 books on hand.

The store is also in "getting ready for the closing party mode. Everybody's invited," he said, promising "lots of door prizes" for the all-day party on April 30. Of the door prizes, he said, there will be some good ones and some bad ones.

"We're also in the mode of trying to market a lot of rare books. We have a lot of big-ticket rare books," he said, explaining that his house, which is full, had become a repository of "generations of local and historical stuff."

He is still hoping a buyer will come forward.

"Every single day in the last two weeks someone has said, 'I'm going to investigate buying the store.'" He has heard of perhaps 20 serious efforts. But so far, nothing has come through.

It's sad packing the books, he said, "because you love them and you don't want them to go." Almost any book he picks up, he thinks, "'That's a good one.' Then you have to put it in a box and say, 'I have to say goodbye to you.'

"We've had so much fun these past 10 years. It has just flown by," he said. But his doctor told him to stop working. He has chronic Lyme disease, he said, and the symptoms are neurological.

Selling books requires a lot of energy, he cautions potential buyers. "This is not a sit-around-and-read-books business," Utter notes.

He kept the store successful with customer service. "It was tangentially a bookstore, but it was essentially a customer service," he explains.

Utter invited authors to readings and book signings, and he wrote and recorded his own radio commercials.

The store, which advertises that it's a "quiet place in a busy world," still has its cozy, peaceful atmosphere in the 200-year-old Victorian house stuffed with bookcases and with "uncommon delights," gifts such as puzzles, scarves and jewelry, reader bags, crocheted flying discs and hats made from recycled sweaters.

Top and bottom shelves were empty just before Easter, but the shelves at eye level were still full. A sign near the register says: "Thanks for shopping indie."

"It's been just a dreamlike journey," Utter said. "The fun of it, the work that we did is so satisfying."

After the closing on April 30 and cleaning up in May, Utter said, "I really have to start taking care of my health," Utter said. Also, "I owe my wife a trip to England."

He'll also stay busy with books.

He has given his cellphone number to some customers. "As long as you need books, as long as I'm alive, I'll get you books."

He has piles of books that he intends to sell on the Internet, such as brand-new copies, printed in 1940 by Utter Publishing, of a history of the Seventh Day Baptist Church's first 100 years. He pointed out a stack of "The Alchemist," autographed by Paulo Coelho. They just came in. He knows he can sell them because Coelho rarely autographs books, he said.

People often asked where the name comes from, so he had bookmarks printed with the poem by Jorge Luis Borges. "The poem is about the real tiger," he explained in 2004 to The Journal's Katherine Imbrie, "plus the mythological tiger, and the spiritual tiger, all the tigers. It's a very evocative poem that contains the essence of what we feel about books, which is a huge love and appreciation for their power."

Utter said he didn't want to be too obvious but he couldn't resist propping, on a table near the front door, a book by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Vicky White. The book is: "Can We Save the Tiger?"


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