Today’s featured author is very late, but the customers assembled at Phoenix Books in Rutland seem unperturbed. They sit and read or chat. Some browse the well-stocked shelves. There’s a wide assortment of artsy greeting cards, quality toys and novelties de- signed for book nerds: a box of Jane Austen tattoos, a mug with the titles of 24 banned books. The cash register stays busy. “I’m happy to make coffee for anyone who wants some,” offers store manager Tricia
Huebner, with the casual air of a neighbor hosting a dinner party. Her
husband, Tom, who holds a prominent day job as CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center, is given the task of keeping watch outside. He
stands in the brisk afternoon, gazing up and down Merchants Row and
Center Street, the heart of the business district, where the bookstore
opened, against the odds, in September 2015.
Nearly an hour after the advertised time, former Vermont Governor
Jim Douglas finally arrives to discuss his new memoir about politics and
civility, apologizing with a blush and shake of his head for erroneously re-
cording the appointment in his calendar. He is greeted with warm smiles
and a generous round of applause.
Rutland is nothing if not patient, well-schooled in perseverance. Phoenix
Books — the place itself as much as what it symbolizes — was worth waiting
for, and many of its customers are personally invested in the store’s success.
For the past two decades, this central Vermont city has struggled
to regain a sense of vitality after years of diminished employment and
commerce left its downtown with empty storefronts and a palpable
sense of decline. When Book King, the city’s longtime purveyor of new
books, closed in 2014 after a 43-year run, it loomed as another loss.
Community forces align to launch an unlikely bookstore,
aiding turnaround in Rutland
By Kim Asch | Photographed by Bear Cieri
THIS PAGE Burlington-area booksellers Mike DeSanto (back row,
left) and his wife, Renee Reiner (seated), enlisted local help from
Tricia Huebner (center) and Will Notte. OPPOSITE The heart of
the city. Rutland is trying to forge a new identity built around
innovation and knowledge.