At first glance, Stillwater Books looks like an ordinary bookstore. Rows of paperbacks are stacked on shelves. High windows cast light on carpeted aisles. The shop sells everything from magazines to greeting cards, along with 6,000 new and used volumes.
But Stillwater is also a press. The publishing arm is tucked into an office in the back, where new titles are busily assembled.
“We’ve always been in the book business,” says Steven Porter, who founded Stillwater Books last year with his wife Dawn. Indeed, printed words are in their blood: Steven and Dawn met at the University of Rhode Island, where he edited the literary journal and she edited the yearbook. Steven spent more than a decade working for a large bookstore chain, until the business went bankrupt in 2000. Even then, their bibliophilia persisted. “When we went on vacation, we would go to bookstores.”
When Steven self-published his 2011 novel, Confessions of the Meek and the Valiant, he found little support from local institutions. “I was disappointed by the response I was getting from bookstores and libraries,” he recalls. “It was almost as if Rhode Island didn’t recognize its own writers.”
This led the Porters to create the Association of Rhode Island Authors, which has now enrolled more than 300 members and hosts literally events nearly every week. They also started their own publishing service, to help aspiring authors edit and design their novels and memoirs. The business outgrew their home office, and they started looking for commercial space. Then it dawned on them.
“I said, ‘Look, we’ve got the bookstore background,’” says Steven. “‘Why don’t we just leave the doors open?’ So we publish books [in the back], and then people come in and buy them. We worked very closely with the city of Pawtucket to find a good spot. And this spot is spectacular.”
The store is located in downtown Pawtucket, a stone’s throw from Pawtucket Falls, Slater Mill, and a major bus stop. Much of their stock is second hand but good quality, and they display most of Stillwater’s own 125 titles.
So how often do fledgling authors come through their doors, looking for a publisher to fulfill their dream?
“Almost every day,” Steven says with a laugh. “It’s very satisfying.” Main Street, Pawtucket