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Oblong Books & Music celebrates 45 years in business

MILLERTON — For all the changes that have shaped the face of Main Street in Millerton — as well as the rest of the world — these last 45 years, Oblong Books & Music has remained a steadfast force, drawing customers from all walks of life and inspiring fellow merchants with its time-honored business. Today, the green storefront that leads to an interior teeming with books, games, toys and so much more for its customers to explore has become a village icon, just as The Moviehouse and the former Saperstein’s store. Reminiscing about how his business and the community have evolved since he first opened shop in the fall of 1975, Oblong co-founder and co-owner Dick Hermans said it’s gratifying to see his business is still a force that draws people to the area, and an anchor businesses in downtown Millerton.

Though they didn’t have an official plan in place, Hermans and Oblong co-founder Holly Nelson had a zest for the store’s eponymous elements: Nelson was an ardent reader and Hermans had previously worked at a record store in college. At the time of its inception, Hermans said there were a couple of book and record stores around and they thought they could do something similar in Millerton. They found an available space at 32 Main St. (now occupied by Demitasse), as the liquor store that was previously housed there was moving out. For $125 a month, the duo rented the space and cleaned it up. Hermans said his father helped him build shelves for LP records; he also borrowed his father’s truck to go to Book-a-Zine in New York City and fill the truck with books for the store. To this day, he said Oblong still does business with Book-a-Zine.

On Oct. 15, 1975, Oblong Books & Music officially opened its doors. Casting his mind back to that very first day, Hermans remembered that they made $184 in sales. From that point on, Hermans and Nelson paid attention to what people liked and didn’t like and tried to keep their inventory well stocked. Initially a modest operation, it wasn’t long before people discovered the independent bookshop, and Oblong Books & Music soon had customers from around the Tri-state region.

Hermans and Nelson managed their store at 32 Main St. for six years before outgrowing it and moving across the street to 23 Main St., formerly the home of B.W. Eagle Eye. By that time, they were selling LP records, cassettes and 8-track tapes in addition to books. Eight years later, they moved to their current location at 26 Main St. Hermans said they’d passed on buying the space eight years earlier as they didn’t have the money at the time. They were later able to scrape together a down payment and moved in during July of 1990. Four years later, the village shoemaker, Carl Ciancio, retired from his business on South Center Street and Hermans and Nelson built a link between the two buildings to create Oblong Jr.

By September 2001, Oblong Books & Music opened a store in the northern Dutchess County village of Rhinebeck; as Hermans was signing the lease for the new building at 6422 Montgomery St. in that popular locale, Nelson was retiring. Hermans’ daughter, Suzanna, now runs the Rhinebeck store. She’s also Oblong’s co-owner.

Taking into account how Oblong has evolved over the years, Hermans mused that the business has matured. He marveled at how the store is now welcoming in fourth-generation customers.

“One of the things my dad said — and not that I wouldn’t have figured it out — is that to succeed, you gotta show up and you gotta keep regular hours and have a routine and do the job,” Hermans said, “and I think that’s one of the things that’s made us, at this point, strong as a business — because we have, in Millerton, a very sturdy amount of business that comes to our door or gets picked up by the curbside.

“We have now got customers all over the country ordering books from us,” he added. “We are not limited to our neighborhoods in northern Dutchess. We are a store that sells books in every state on a regular basis. It’s a little scary but it’s provided us with a new income flow that I never would have anticipated.”

Hermans remarked that the store has been through a lot and that, like Millerton, it’s had a healthy evolution. Taking into account past recessions and COVID-19, he said the pandemic hasn’t hurt business as much as online shopping has, since websites like Amazon have taken on a chunk of book sales from his business. Hermans acknowledged he worried about that for a while, but knows there are people who understand that buying online isn’t good for the local economy, the importance of shopping locally, and who don’t want to read on a screen.

Between the two stores, Oblong Books & Music currently has about 24 employees — with two people working from home on a full-time basis. Its hours of operation run every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Tuesday; Tuesdays are now used for curbside pickup orders.

Call Oblong in Millerton at 518-789-3797; its website is www.oblongbooks.com.

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