Judy Manzo opened BookEnds some 24 years ago with the thought that it would not be just a store for selling books but a community “meeting place.” At a time when independent bookstores struggle to stay open, many succumbing to competition from online booksellers, BookEnds has succeeded in becoming the anchor store in the Center that Judy envisioned, “a welcoming place for people of all ages and places.” From customer-centric service, generous support of local causes, the host of local and national adults’ and children’s books authors’ talks/book signings, and much more, BookEnds continues to make connections to all aspects of community life.

Interview with Judy Manzo

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started BookEnds.

In my first life (1969-1974) I was a special education teacher in the Woburn Public Schools. Over the next 18 years or so I was a stay-at-home Mom with three children. I did extensive volunteering in the schools and community including PTAs, Girl Scouts, Religious Ed. Teacher, Special Education Parent Advisory Council, En Ka Society, Town Meeting member, Parent-to-Parent, Cooperative Theater Mom, Trustee Winchester Community Music School, etc.  When our youngest daughter was 10 years (my son in high school and oldest daughter in college) in my mid-forties I was anxious to do something else! After a couple years (1992) I literally “fell into” buying Winchester’s independent bookstore — Book Ends first opened in 1984!

What were some of your biggest challenges you faced in building your business?

I bought this business with blind faith that I could handle it! My inspiration to do this was spending two years (1991-1992) as a volunteer Chairperson of the En Ka Exchange Consignment shop. We managed the shop with some 150 women volunteers who each took a 3 hour shift a month! I had no other retail or business experience save being raised/working in my family’s 45 year restaurant/motel business in upstate New York until I graduated with my teaching degree in 1968 (SUNY Cortland). From there I went to graduate school for an M.Ed. in Special Education (Penn State University). My husband, Mike, has an MBA so I figured he would be a good advisor! So I simply had to “learn” everything starting the very first day. My first inventory system consisted of post-it notes with details of each book on the shelves and a binder notebook where I would transfer these post-its daily to aide in sales and purchasing. My inventory was selected on a micro-fiche reader with new slides arriving weekly. I would then sit on the floor with the phone and call in my orders to a distributor!

What have been some of the biggest highlights?

The absolute biggest is that I still own and love the business some 24 years later! I learned before the second year that my friend Pat (another former teacher) and I would need more help to run this little business — then just the corner door and 800 SF of space — over the seven days a week and long days from 9 am to 8 pm. Right at the start I believed a bookstore should be open all the time — like a drug store — but that requires more staff and more work! So by 1993 I hired several folks who had skills Pat and I needed. Paula was an engineer who could use a computer and Beverly had years of experience running her own bookstores for years in Lexington and Brookline and was willing to help me out! Both of these amazing women are still helping me out!! So retaining talented and loyal staff has probably been my biggest success. In recent years we employ some 15 full and part time staff!

What do you think has been your business’ greatest contribution to Winchester?

I have always focused on being a “meeting place” for the community by providing a store that was open long hours and sponsoring many free author events for adults and children. I wanted a place for folks to gather, share, support local fundraisers by purchasing tickets for events at the store, etc. While I was a director of the Winchester Chamber of Commerce since the mid 1990s, I took on being President of the Board in  2011-2012.  I hoped to strengthen the retail businesses and encourage more diverse shops to open in our amazing downtown.

I was very involved with Town Hall in making plans for a Revitalized Downtown (and continue to support these initiatives as a Town Meeting Member (since 1988).  So I think the growth and strength of my business from that first corner shop to over the years add the second store front and then a third space in 1999) bringing the space to today’s size of about 2500SF and in joining several other long time center stores in demonstrating that retail can survive in Winchester!

I’m also very proud of the success of our Book Fairs by Book Ends division started in 2005 where we created a system of taking “mini bookstores” into Metro Boston area school as literary fundraisers.

What do you want the legacy of your business to be for Winchester?

My hope and dream is to keep this bookstore strong and successful so that it can maintain the reputation as an important anchor store in the Center.

Do you think being a woman has impacted how people view you as a businessperson? If so, how? If not, why not?

I think my “emotional” and “enthusiastic” style of leadership has been helpful in “selling” the store to newcomers. I continue to be passionate about locally owned independent stores and their value to our community in providing jobs and connections to all aspects of community life. These shops support hundreds of requests a year for donations and gift certificates for silent auction fundraisers that many local & national chain stores simply don’t accept. Local Owners and employees know the “heartbeat” of our community and have knowledge of local issues. So I guess a man can do all this, too, but as a woman I am very comfortable expressing my enthusiasm and love for my product — loving books, loving kids, loving community…. Another significant plus is that the store tends to be “flowery & pretty” which is typically from the hands of creative women — but then I don’t want to stereotype anybody!

Who is one woman who has inspired you?

This is a difficult question. One woman I heard speak a couple years ago in Boston was Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who wrote “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” She has invited young women to stand up — be confident — take on big challenges — waxing poetically that you can have a family and have “big” work, too. Women can be amazingly successful juggling multiple roles — but need to network and have supportive families, friends, and co-workers… And more recently, Winchester resident, Linda Rossetti, who has written a new book called “Women & Transition: Reinventing Work & Life”.

Any advice to other female entrepreneurs?

Women have an amazing track record of “reinventing” themselves — of being different people at different times in their lives. Age is not an issue — but frequently leads to new ideas or interests. There is no formula, perfect time or place — just be mindful and open to life’s possibilities. You never know where your interests or passions will take you — take chances. Surround yourself with women who share your passion — Go Girl!