Bookstore’s exit is a loss for Nobscot
Neighbors cite role played by Annie’s
The news announced last week sent shock waves through Framingham’s Nobscot community. Paul Ashton, the gregarious Brit who has run Annie’s Book Stop/Espresso Paulo for more than 10 years, can no longer afford to keep the shop open, he said, and is closing at the end of the month.
“Paul Ashton held the de facto Nobscot community and cultural center,’’ said Brett Peruzzi, who organizes a group of residents into an informal group called Nobscot Neighbors. “It’s going to create a gaping hole in the community.’’
While book stores and cafes are commonplace, Annie’s has played a crucial role to residents of this neighborhood in northern Framingham, they say. Far from the bustle of the town’s commercial strips along Route 9 and the even more distant downtown, Nobscot encompasses swaths of residential areas and pastoral farmland that offer sparse retail options.
Annie’s sits near the intersection of Edgell Road and Water Street in the Nobscot Shopping Center. The center, with its art deco sign, may be the most recognizable symbol of the area. But over the past decade, stores in the plaza have been closing, leaving residents to wonder how they can spark more economic development in the area.
Annie’s was one of the stores hanging on, and residents were beneficiaries. From the time Nobscot Neighbors was formed to advocate for the neighborhood’s interests, Ashton let the group meet in his shop for free.
In fact, he offered the space to anyone who asked: political candidates seeking votes, literary and writing clubs, a knitting group.
“I lived here for seven years, and I didn’t even know my next-door neighbors,’’ he said of life before Annie’s. “This was a sea change. All of a sudden, it was building something that was local.’’
Ashton, 65, bought the shop with his wife, Jackie Kuhl-Ashton, in 2000. At the time, Annie’s trafficked mainly in used romance novels. Ashton and his wife built up the mystery section and other genres, added seating, and got a permit to serve coffee and snacks.
When his wife died in 2004, Ashton took over as sole proprietor, a job that requires a seven-day work week.
For the first few years the Ashtons owned the store, sales were rising. But the past three years saw declining revenues.
Ashton doesn’t know exactly what caused this year’s book sales to plummet 30 percent from last year’s sales. He said it could be the seemingly never-ending sewer and water main repair that makes getting to his store from routes 30 and 9 a slow obstacle course of trenches, police, and heavy equipment. It could be the closure of the plaza’s anchor store. It could be the instant gratification of buying books online, he said, or it could be any combination of the above.
But whatever the reason, he said, he needs to close the store and find a job.
“We’re heartbroken that he’s closing,’’ said Susan Massad, who lives around the corner and has been a regular for years. She said she’ll miss Ashton’s potluck parties, and the talks by local notables he hosted. “The neighborhood is really going to miss him.’’
Annie’s closure has residents worried about the larger picture of economic development in the area. The plaza has been the target of concerns for years, and as time passes, vacancies increase.
The anchor spot in the Nobscot Shopping Center has been vacant for years, and of the nine other storefronts, three have been vacant. When Annie’s closes and when TD Bank moves to its new digs in a new standalone building up the street, there will be five vacancies.
“I just wonder what’s going to happen to this block,’’ said Anne R. Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center, who gets her coffee every morning from Ashton.
But when asked about plans for the plaza, Terri Desjardins, the property manager for Centercorp Retail Properties in Salem, which owns the plaza, said there’s “nothing at this time.’’
Potential tenants might be hard-pressed to find how they could rent any retail space in the plaza, since the Nobscot Shopping Center isn’t listed on the Centercorp’s website. Twenty-five other retail properties are listed, however, along with photos.
Since Ashton announced the pending closure of his store, people have been swarming in to say their reluctant goodbyes and stock up on $1 books. Ashton said he sold more books in one day than he sold in three months.
He said that although books supplied his income, it was the people who made his job so meaningful.
“My favorite part of the business was the people and the interaction with all the different types that came in,” said Ashton. “They’ve become good friends.”
Megan McKee can be reached at email@example.com.