Comptroller Peter Franchot presented Tom Martin, owner of the BookPlate in Chestertown, with the 2019 Kent County Cornerstone Award for Small Business Excellence. The award, which Franchot created last year, is for local businesses that contribute significantly to the local economy. A standing-room crowd filled the back room of the bookstore, where the ceremony was held Thursday, Sept. 3
Martin, who opened the used bookstore 16 years ago, introduced Franchot. Pointing to familiar faces in the audience, he likened the event to “time travel” because of all the long-time customers present, some who had come from further away just for the event. He recalled the comptroller’s previous visits to the store, including one a couple of years ago when he showed Franchot a book in which several psychologists attempted to analyze Donald Trump. Franchot bought the book and several others in the same vein, he said, to laughter and applause from the crowd.
Franchot noted that the Wall Street Journal had recently designated Maryland as the richest state in the nation, according to census bureau statistics. “We have our flaws, trust me – but we also have a lot of success,” he said, noting that the state’s gross domestic product is some $360 billion, of which 70% is due to small businesses like Martin’s that supply the bulk of jobs and economic activity in the state. “That’s why I created this award,” he said.
“There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you walk into a dearly beloved quaint bookstore,” said Franchot, adding that he has had “many engaging conversations” with the store’s owner. He noted that Martin’s success in the field has come in spite of the domination of the market by corporate bookstores. “This is a store that understands and responds to the needs of its customers,” Franchot said. As an example of Martin’s ability to adapt, Franchot cited Martin’s lowering book prices during the Great Recession to accommodate his customers. He said the store has created a legacy in the community of which Martin should be proud. The audience responded with prolonged applause as he invited Martin to the podium to accept the award.
Martin said the award exceeded his wildest dreams. He recognized his staff, local authors such as Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, and his loyal customers, who have been with the store since its beginnings. He reminisced about the origins of the store, crediting the sale of a rare signed first edition of Harry Potter with raising the money to commit to expanding the store’s space. The store, selling new and used books along with hand-made pottery, opened in the smaller space next door to the current main room. Then as the business prospered and grew, Martin moved to the larger area. Later when the original space became available again, he added a door between the two spaces to create the present-day spacious Bookplate. He thanked artist Marc Castelli, who was in the audience, for creating the store’s sign and a painting for the store’s 10th anniversary, titled “Who Knew?” He thanked everyone in the audience – “It’s a community bookstore, it’s for everyone here,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s truly organic.”
Concluding the ceremony, Franchot distributed several of his signature medallions to Martin, store workers Emily Kalwaitis and René as well as to artist Marc Castelli and to Martin’s wife Liz O’Donoghue, who Martin described as his partner in business and everything. Martin reciprocated by giving Franchot a BookPlate hat and a poster showing a Castelli painting. The crowd stayed for some time after the presentation to enjoy wine and snacks and to talk one-on-one with Franchot.
The standing-room-only audience included representatives from several local organizations including Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown, Kristin Owens of the Downtown Chestertown Association, and Loretta Lodge of the Kent County Chamber of Commerce. The store cat, Keke, was also present during the entire event.
Located at 112 S. Cross St. in downtown Chestertown, The BookPlate is a full-service bookstore with a large selection including books on history, natural history, architecture, art, cooking, self-help, memoirs, politics, and more. The store also specializes in naval and marine history and all things nautical. The fiction section ranges from current popular titles to classic tales in English alongside translated works from around the globe and across the ages. You will find Voltaire and Sophocles and Shakespeare along with contemporary writers such as Sarandon and Rowling. There are whole sections of mysteries, fantasy and science fiction, westerns and poetry. And a bookcase full of signed first editions! There are also places to sit while contemplating your purchases. Come on down to Tom Martin’s BookPlate for the best hometown, independent bookstore experience.