After graduating from Dartmouth, Allie Levy ’11 had two dreams. The first was that she would pursue a career aligning with her English major, potentially in bookselling. The second was that she might one day come back to Hanover. Last winter, Levy fulfilled both. She had a soft opening for the Main Street bookstore Still North Books & Bar on Dec. 19 of last year. The space is airy, calming and filled with a diverse collection of books that Levy hopes both students and Upper Valley residents can enjoy.
Due to the pandemic, Still North was closed to the public from mid-March to mid-May. After Levy figured out how to maintain her new business amid the coronavirus, Still North once again opened its space up to the community to peruse its shelves and enjoy a coffee from the cafe. In an interview with The Dartmouth, Levy discusses her experience running Still North and her gratitude to Dartmouth students and the Upper Valley community.
What was your Dartmouth experience like?
AL: I was an English major, and I worked at The Dartmouth. I was the arts editor for my sophomore and junior years, which was great. I was also a Tabard, so my time was kind of split between The Dartmouth and Tabard. I probably spent more time in The Dartmouth offices than I did going to class.
The biggest thing that I got from my Dartmouth experience was being introduced to the Upper Valley. Being a student is hard, and there were times where I definitely struggled, but I always really loved the landscape and the community here. So, I am super grateful to Dartmouth for introducing me to that. It’s been really interesting to come back and see some of my old professors in Hanover.
How did you come to be a bookstore owner in Hanover?
AL: After I graduated, I kind of bounced around a lot. I was working in the outdoor industry in New York, and then eventually in Colorado. I started to realize that I wished I was doing something closer to what my degree was in. So, I ended up working on publications at an outdoor nonprofit, and that gave me the idea to start going into publishing.
I thought I would move back to New York and get a job in publishing, but I ended up going back to Colorado. I loved Colorado when I was there, and ended up finding a little bookstore/bar in Denver called BookBar, which I fell in love with. I ended up working there for a few years. But, in the back of my mind was that I wanted to see what it was like working in publishing in New York. After a few years at BookBar, I went to New York and ended up working in the marketing department at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But, I was missing bookselling. I also missed the place I was at in Denver, because it was this amazing community space.
Because I was out east, I started to visit the Upper Valley again. I thought that it would be so great to have this kind of community space/bookstore/bar in Hanover. At the time, the Dartmouth Bookstore was here, so there wasn’t really a need. But about six months after I had that dream, the Dartmouth Bookstore announced it was closing. I started working on a business plan, figuring out if this kind of thing would be feasible in Hanover, and then went from there.
What has been most rewarding as a small business owner?
AL: It’s been really rewarding to see how much the community wants a space like this and how much they value an independent bookstore. I am just so full of gratitude that even during COVID, people have shown so much support and made it very clear that this is a place that means a lot to them, even though we’re still very new.
How has business been during the pandemic?
AL: It’s been crazy. We actually started out with the idea that we were going to focus entirely on the in-store experience. Last year at this time, we were getting ready to open up, and I was like, we’re not going to have our website or sell books online because we’re going to focus on what’s going on in store, and I don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. So, I thought e-commerce was going to come a little bit later. That had to change really quickly in March. In about a week, we decided that we had to start selling books online.
We got our website up and running — I had an amazing employee who helped me with that. It’s been amazing to see just how the community has embraced us right off the bat. It has been challenging, and the cafe side of things is the most challenging in terms of the pandemic because we still don’t feel comfortable with people eating and drinking inside. We are figuring out how to ramp back up our food offerings while staying safe, which has been a fun challenge. Hopefully soon, by mid-November, we will be introducing some food options back.
What are your hopes for the future of Still North Books & Bar?
AL: I hope that we will be able to have people gather again. In the winter, before the pandemic, it was really great to see students in here, studying and meeting with professors. We did events with students and with the community. I really miss having an in-person gathering space. I hope that we’ll be able to be that again sometime soon.
We are also looking into how we can work better with students and academic departments for course book ordering. We are starting to test the waters with that, and I hope that is somewhere we can grow because I think there is a real need for a place for people to get their course books locally if they want to. It’s definitely been a big challenge, given our limited space. We are able to do individual course book orders, but we are still figuring out how to do that on a level that is wider reaching.
What advice do you have for Dartmouth students who also seek to be entrepreneurs and potentially open businesses in Hanover?
AL: I still feel very new to it, but I would say that if there is something that is calling you or if there’s something that is interesting to you, do it. Don’t feel like you have to do the typical Dartmouth thing of corporate recruiting and going into finance or consulting. Take some time and do things that just sound fun, even if it sounds like it has nothing to do with your major or you feel like you’re wasting your Ivy League education. I think I used to feel a lot of guilt about how I’m in retail, but I went to Dartmouth. But actually, the years I spent in retail were so valuable, and I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t had those experiences. Don’t be afraid to not know what you’re doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.