Store History

Why are you the "Ninth Street Book Shop" if you are located at Eighth and Market?

The history of our name goes back to 1983, but really even earlier.  With thirty years of name recognition, it was hard to make the decision to change it when we moved to our current location.
Read below to learn the full history of Wilmington's oldest independent book store. 


The Beginning: January 1977
Jack & Gemma Buckley, both public school teachers at the time, came into Wilmington one Saturday to buy furniture.  They happened to park in front of the Paperbook Gallery, a long-established bookstore also known for its tobacco products.  They knew that the business was for sale so on a whim they stopped in and talked with the owners.  One month later, on Valentine’s Day, they owned it!   Jack immediately quit his high school position as the chair of  the English department, the entire classical language department (he also taught Latin), and the head baseball coach to run the store.  His dad and Gemma’s mom also began working there to “help out the kids.” Gemma, however, continued to teach third grade for another 1 ½ years just to guarantee some income and benefits.  For the next 6 years they built up the book inventory by selling garden and houseplants. They sold so many, in fact, that they sometimes were known as the flower shop that also sold books.  During this period 2 more became part of the family business, their daughter Jenni, born in 1979, and their son Matt, born in 1981.  From cradle to college they were integral to the business’s success, even recording some radio commercials.

First Expansion: November 1983
 
When the Greenwood Bookshop, which had been the oldest bookstore in Delaware, went out of business, Jack & Gemma took over the location at 110 W. 9th Street, renovated the space, and renamed it the “Ninth Street Book Shop.”  They now owned 2 bookstores within 1 block of each other! Paperbook Gallery continued to sell mostly paperbacks and plants, and the NSBS, which was almost 3 times larger, expanded into more hardbacks and boarder selections in multiple categories.  They were delighted to be part of the thriving Ninth Street Plaza retail corridor, that included such renowned shops as Joy Trim, Carl Doubet Jewelers, Eckards’ Drugstore,  Alfred Carlis Children’s Clothier, Huber’s Sporting Goods, the Fashion Shop (an upscale women’s store),  the Gazebo, and Artisans Three gift shop.

Second Expansion: September 1990
 
Another bookstore, South Bay, that was located in the Grand Opera House at 810 N. Market Street, decided to  downsize to a home-based business so Jack & Gemma made another “wild & crazy” move.  They closed the Paperbook Gallery and moved its inventory (without the plants) to the newly renovated space that they renamed the “Scrivener.”  Approximately the same size as the Paperbook Gallery and only 3 blocks away from NSBS, it provided another opportunity for growth.  Unfortunately, however, 2 years later a discount competitor, Encore, positioned its store just across the street from the Scrivener, forcing Jack and Gemma to close it the following year. Thanks to all their loyal customers, though, they were able to retain the NSBS, where they remained until…

Do-It-Yourself Renovations: July 1994
Stuffed with books stacked to the 18-foot high ceiling, Jack & Gemma decided to move to another location within the privately owned parking facility of which they were a part.  Vacant for years, the storefront was previously a restaurant then the customer service center for Delmarva Power Co.  Again, Jack & Gemma along staff members Mary & JoAnne,  Jenni & Matt and their high school friends, painted, tore down, built, hauled and reset all the fixtures and inventory at 104 W. 9th St., just 100 feet up the street to a space three times larger.  Still called the Ninth Street Book Shop, its more spacious location enabled the inventory to grow to more than 50,000 titles.

Getting a Little Help from Our Friends: March 2012
After 30 years of operating a bookstore on 9th Street, Jack and Gemma were faced with a difficult decision.  Their building was literally crumbling apart, the once vibrant retail sector was reduced to just a couple of businesses, and fewer shoppers were coming into the area for numerous reasons.  For almost 2 years they had been trying to find a better location with an affordable rent, but to no avail.  Now it seemed that they would have to go out of business, something they dreaded but saw no way to avoid.  They decided to announce their decision on February 20, 2012, and had already prepared a letter to be sent to their Frequent Buyer Club members.  But then something almost miraculous happened!  Some of their loyal customers, noticing the dire situation, began an effort to “save the bookstore” by contacting Wilmington’s city officials.  Very quickly contacts were made with Buccini Pollin Group (BPG), a major downtown developer, and Jack & Gemma saw one of their properties at 8th & Market, that seemed perfect.  One third the size of their current location, it afforded more visibility and foot traffic.  BPG was wonderful about converting the space into an attractive retail destination for NSBS’s thousands of customers.  So within a one-month period, Jack & Gemma went from announcing that after 35 years as booksellers they were very reluctantly closing to signing a 5-year lease on their 41st wedding anniversary.  They couldn’t have wished for a better gift to give each other.

Keeping Our Name: June 2012
Jack & Gemma’s fifth, and hopefully final, store opening is scheduled for June 11th, at their new location at 730  N. Market St.  No longer on 9th Street, Jack & Gemma couldn’t agree on the new store’s name.  Gemma, the sentimental one, said it should remain the Ninth Street Book Shop because it had 30 years worth of name recognition.  Jack, the logical one, said it should be changed to the Eighth Street Book Shop.  So to “save their marriage” they left the decision to their customers.  For one month over 400 people voted, and overwhelming they wanted to retain the name—Gemma was right!  And so, thanks to many loyal customers, it will continue to be the Ninth Street Book Shop, now at 8th & Market.
Above all we are happy and proud to have served as the independent book store of Wilmington, DE for almost 40 years.