CHESTERTOWN — “I feel like Meryl Streep up here, winning all the awards,” a jubilant Tom Martin exclaimed after being recognized Thursday, Oct. 3 by state Comptroller Peter Franchot on the success of the Bookplate.
With wine, soda and snacks set out, Franchot was the guest of honor in the packed back room of Martin’s bookstore in Chestertown. The comptroller was there to present Martin with the 2019 Cornerstone Award for Kent County to commemorate the Bookplate’s 16 years and counting of success.
Franchot said the Cornerstone Award celebrates small, family-owned businesses. He said such operations have shown that they can adapt to economic challenges while prioritizing a commitment to the local community they serve.
“It’s an absolute delight to be with you because, you know, we don’t have enough connections to each other in this kind of technological world that we live in now. It has a wonderful, comfortable feeling to be here with each of you in this wonderful establishment,” Franchot told the crowd.
He spoke about how Maryland has recently been named the wealthiest state in the country. He said while the state loves big companies located here like Northrop Grumman and Under Armour, it is small businesses like the Bookplate that supply the bulk of the jobs, tax revenue, economic activity and growth.
“It’s about a $360 billion GDP (gross domestic product) we have annually in the state. Seventy percent of it is represented by businesses just like this,” Franchot said. “I am the state’s chief fiscal officer and I’m unapologetic in my support and advocacy of these small businesses.”
This was not Franchot’s first visit to the Bookplate. He and Martin traded stories about a previous visit during which Martin offered Franchot, a Democrat, a book psychoanalyzing President Donald Trump.
“There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you first walk into a clearly beloved, quaint used bookstore. Because there’s this unspoken understanding that as a reader, you’ll be taken care of, whether it’s by buying a copy of a great book at an unbeatable price, reading in the comfy chairs tucked among packed shelves or the engaging conversation with the store’s owner,” Franchot said.
He spoke about how Martin seeks to respond to customers’ needs, lowering book prices during the Great Recession to ensure they remained an “affordable luxury” and hosting authors, poets and other speakers to read and discuss their work.
“But beyond its walls and many bookcases, the Bookplate has been a critical part of Chestertown’s growing business community and that along with this store is a legacy of which, Tom, you should be proud,” Franchot told the crowd and Martin.
In addition to the Cornerstone Award, Franchot presented Martin with a proclamation from the state. When Franchot asked, amid applause, for Martin to say a few words, a shout of “We love you Tom” came up from the crowd.
“It’s one of those things you have no expectation of receiving even in one’s wildest dreams. And I’m glad I never dreamt about it,” Martin quipped about receiving the award.
He told the story of opening the Bookplate, moving from the space next door to its present location — thanks in part to the revenue from the sale of a $5,000 signed first edition of a Harry Potter book — and then expanding again to take back over the old space too.
He thanked his wife Elizabeth O’Donoghue and his staff and others who helped him along the way, including artist Marc Castelli for his contributions, Jon Hanley for his work building fixtures and the husband-and-wife team of local authors Matt Swanson and Robbi Behr.
“It’s been a community effort. And the most important people of all to thank are you. You have been here literally since the beginning, 16 years ago,” Martin told the crowd.
Martin said “community” is what the Bookplate is all about.
“It’s a community bookstore. It’s for everyone here and everyone here has certainly bought things. Everyone here has even many times contributed to the inventory, which is always welcome. It’s one of those things which is totally organic. It just sort of happened,” he said.
Martin presented Franchot with a Bookplate hat, complete with lights on the brim for nighttime reading, and a poster featuring a Castelli print.
“I just don’t know what to say. I thank you again. I really thank everyone for their support, their contributions, their creativity. It’s been a wonderful ride. It’s been 16 years. It’s really sort of gone by fast. I have no idea how we did it. I really don’t,” Martin said to Franchot and the crowd.