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Jocelyn Maningo Kaleita inside the downtown Riverhead space that will soon host A Book Place. (Credit: Tara Smith)

If you’ve always thought that downtown Riverhead needed a bookstore, you’re in luck. East Moriches resident Jocelyn Maningo Kaleita is preparing to open A Book Place on Main Street this summer.

“I’ve wrestled with the idea of having my own store for over a decade,” she said. “It was never the right time.”

The new bookstore will be in the former Taste the East End boutique next to Jerry and The Mermaid on East Main Street.

Ms. Kaleita, 39, said that though she’s always dreamt of selling books, her first idea was to convert a step-up van into a mobile book truck. But as soon as she found one she liked, it sold. 

At the urging of family friend Jerry Dicecco, who owns the restaurant next door, she was going to add a book wall to the existing gift shop on the site. After learning that the former tenant was moving on, she seized the opportunity.

The 750-square foot space is complete with built-in shelves, lighting and furniture, exposed ceiling beams and white walls. Ms. Kaleita also plans to continue using the shop’s iconic cash wrap — a converted 1957 Ford truck.

She already envisions an area for nonfiction biographies, memoirs, history, sports, travel, home and garden and mindfulness books and also plans to feature a table of bestsellers and seasonal items, like the perfect summer beach read.

A section at the far end of the shop will house Long Island inspired titles as well as the annual Long Island Reads book, which seeks to bring readers from both Suffolk and Nassau counties together and selects one book each year with a Long Island connection. Authors with a Long Island connection will also be featured, from contemporary authors including Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

A lengthy wall will be dedicated to fiction: mystery, thrillers, contemporary and literary fiction and a large, interactive children’s area is also planned. “I would really like the kids to have a space,” Ms. Kaleita, a mother of three, said. “If we don’t cultivate their reading young, they’re not going to be readers.”

Since she’s located next to the hotels downtown, she also hopes to carry a small selection of mementoes and souvenirs as well as a few seats for reading the newspaper. Ms. Kaleita is even hoping to bring her cozy reading chair from home to add a personal touch.

A lifelong book lover, Ms. Kaleita credits Terry Lucas, the current library director on Shelter Island, with guiding her in her career. At 15, she started working at The Open Book, which Ms. Lucas owned and operated in Westhampton for more than a decade. “The reason why I want to do this — and who I am today — is because of her,” she said.

Ms. Kaleita pursued degrees in journalism, communications and gender/art studies and got a Master’s in library science, working at the Westhampton Free Library before taking time to care for her children.

During the pandemic, she pivoted to be a “roving” librarian, doing home visits to help elderly neighbors with technology: navigating online grocery orders, making vaccine appointments, or learning to FaceTime faraway family members.

In January, she also founded a book club with friends and local moms that has grown to 30 members. They’re currently reading the wildly popular “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, which is being adapted into a film that will be released in mid-July.

It’s been decades since there was a bookstore downtown  — and at least 11 years since Riverhead Town had a bookstore, as Borders declared bankruptcy and closed hundreds of stores, including one on Route 58, back in 2011.

Riverhead Chamber of Commerce president Connie Lassandro said the bookstore will be a great addition to the downtown area. “With all the technology today, it’s great to read on your iPhone or iPad but there’s nothing more comforting than holding a book and reading it,” she said. “It’s something that has kind of disappeared for a while. Borders was great, but there’s nothing like a small, hometown bookstore.”  

Despite concerns about digital disruption to the book selling industry, there have been some positive signs nationally. According to reports by the NPD Group, a market research company, book sales rose 8.2% in 2020 and 8.9% in 2021.

The number of independent bookstores is also steadily increasing. 

Ray Daniels, a spokesperson for the American Booksellers Association, reported 2,010 members and 2,547 locations are current members, an increase of more than 300 since last spring. In May 2016, the association reported 1,244 bookstore companies and 1,749 locations were members. “While all stores are not part of our membership, our member numbers are the highest they have been in many years,” Mr. Daniels said.

Ms. Kaleita said that downtown areas are “the perfect landscapes” for bookshops and she’s excited to get to know the community.

“I’m not Amazon,” she cautioned. “My favorite part is handing somebody a book. A hidden gem, word-of-mouth book, and saying ‘I really hope you enjoy this. Come back and let me know.’ Books allow a connection you can have with somebody.”

For more information and updates, follow @abookplace_boutique on Instagram.