A new venue to celebrate voices
Seeking to fill a void left in the community’s cultural life by the closing of Kingston’s Borders bookstore, a new outlet called the Book Shack is plugging in the beautiful voices of artists such as Ayla Brown.
Brown, who first drew national attention as a semifinalist on “American Idol” five years ago, will perform her contemporary country-style music Friday night at the independently owned bookstore.
The Book Shack opened last fall in the large anchor store at Kingston’s Independence Mall left empty by the collapse of the national bookstore chain. But while the new business is based on selling books, co-owner Eric Christensen says the Book Shack is “a bookstore with a twist.”
Part of that twist comes from restructuring the store’s 24,000-square-foot space to make room for the Cupcake Shack, a dessert place, and a theater with seats for 250 to present musicians and events such as the upcoming Writer’s Festival. The remainder of the space is devoted to bargain books, bestsellers, and the store’s specialty in history.
“I just saw an opportunity,” said Christensen, the son of the nationally known stress reduction consultant and humorist Loretta LaRoche, and the founder of Loretta LaRoche Productions, a speakers’ bureau and live entertainment production business. “Borders left a void.”
Co-owned by Christensen and book supplier Jason Zutaut of Rochester, the Book Shack isn’t seeking to replicate the Borders, a large corporation before its bankruptcy. “We’re the book shack,” Christensen said. “It’s a small business. Small businesses run this country.”
The business seeks to be even more locally rooted and community friendly than Kingston’s Borders, which also hosted public programs. So far it has forged a strong connection with the Kingston library, conducting a book drive as a library fund-raiser while the library provides a weekly storytime for children in the store.
And the new theater allows for the programming that connects with the community, Christensen said last week.
Brown has strong regional credentials, though she currently lives in Nashville, the heart of the country music industry. The daughter of US Senator Scott Brown, she is a Boston College graduate and has performed locally at the Plymouth Blues Festival.
After winning praise for her voice and poise as a teenager on “American Idol,” Brown put her professional singing career on hold to play Division 1 basketball at BC. Since then, in addition to singing dates and recording four albums, she’s become known as “the anthem girl” for singing the national anthem at numerous events nationwide and performing it for the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team last season.
Brown’s self-titled country album, released earlier this year, includes a hit song, “Goodbye for Good,” which went to the top of the country music charts. Her many charitable appearances include singing at Fenway Park for the Jimmy Fund and other Red Sox charities. She has also appeared regularly on the CBS “Early Show’’ as a correspondent reporting on music and other feature stories. In Nashville, she has performed on television in the Country Music Award festivals.
Friday’s opening act, Kiley Evans of Pembroke, is “well loved in the local area,” Christensen said. Recently named Songwriter of the Year by the Massachusetts Country Music Association, Evans saw her song “Johnny Depp” receive airplay from radio stations all over New England and some national play as well, according to the young singer.
Beautiful voices of another sort take the stage at the Book Shack during the Writer’s Festival from Aug. 13 to 19.
Devoted to the spoken and written word, the festival kicks off with a benefit for the Kingston library ($5 donation) hosted by LaRoche and Marianne Leone Cooper, author of “Knowing Jesse,” a book about her late son, who had cerebral palsy.
Also on the festival’s schedule are a nonfiction writers panel Tuesday evening; an independent authors panel on Wednesday evening, plus workshops on how to get published and writing with humor (by LaRoche, a master in that field) earlier in the day; a romance authors’ panel and a book signing by novelist Lynne Griffin, author of “Sea Escape,” on Thursday; and a poetry slam on Friday night open to all.
On Sunday, a wrap-up party includes day-long events starting at noon and concluding with a book signing by novelist Nichole Bernier, author of “The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.”
Encouraged by the strong response to the Kingston store, the Book Shack opened a second, smaller store in Hanover, taking over another spot vacated by Borders. It has plans to open in Taunton as well and the business is also in negotiation with South Shore Plaza to open in a former Borders space there.
“The space is lying dormant,” Christensen said. “The publishing world is challenged, but book buying is still an $18 billion industry.”
Robert Knox can be reached at email@example.com.