By Sonya Vartabedian
---- — Count best-selling suspense author James Patterson among Andover Bookstore’s fans.
The local independent bookseller is on the receiving end of one of the first wave of gifts that the award-winning author is doling out to bookstores across the country in hopes of shining a spotlight on their value.
Patterson last year pledged $1 million to indie booksellers as his way of encouraging public support for their work and helping to support their future.
But instead of giving the money to just a handful of shops, Patterson invited booksellers to submit 250-word essays applying for up to $10,000 apiece as a way of maximizing the impact he could have on the most businesses.
The focus of the grants was left wide open to include just about anything — from new shelving or carpeting to structural repairs to employee bonuses. The only requirement was that the applicants boast a children’s room in their stores.
It was around Christmas when Andover Bookstore co-owner John Hugo submitted his proposal.
He said every holiday, his father, Bob, who bought the bookstore in 1990, rewards his employes with some type of bonus in appreciation for their work. But invariably, Bob Hugo would opt not to take any extra for himself, his son said.
John Hugo asked Patterson for $500 so he could treat his father to a special dinner out in thanks for all he does. In addition to Andover Bookstore, Hugo BookStores also operates The Book Rack in Newburyport and Spirit of ‘76 Bookstore in Marblehead.
“My father has run three profitable bookstores, although I would insert the word ‘barely’ in before profitable because the last three years have been tough,” John Hugo wrote to Patterson. “Since he’s always good to his employees, I want to do something nice for him.”
Patterson not only granted Hugo’s request, but added an additional $500, sending a check for $1,000 to Andover Bookstore last month.
John Hugo said the check was accompanied by a note from the author that said, “I love this proposal. It doesn’t usually go to the owner.”
“I think it’s terrific,” John Hugo said of Patterson’s generosity. “It’s wonderful to see someone use his voice for action, and put his money where his mouth is in not wanting to see independent bookstores close. ... Maybe we sell only about 100 of his books a year, but if we go away, it will be less.”
Andover Bookstore was one of seven in Massachusetts and 55 across the country to receive grants from Patterson totaling $267,000 in what was the first round of funding. More grants are expected to be awarded throughout the year.
Hugo said by stipulating grant recipients have a children’s room in their stores, Patterson sent a clear message.
“He really wants kids reading. If they don’t have a place to read and have someone turn them on to it, it doesn’t happen,” Hugo said. “I feel a lot of readers are made in small stores where people care about them.”
Founded in 1809, Andover Bookstore is considered the second oldest continuously running bookstore in the country, behind Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Penn. It has been based at 89R Main St. for the past 50 years.
With the advent of online retailers like Amazon in recent years, Hugo said indie booksellers like Andover Bookstore haven’t had it easy. But while the maximum grant threshold was $10,000, Hugo said he never thought to ask Patterson for any more than the $500 he requested .
“I felt someone else out there could use it more,” he said.
Andover author and former Oprah Book Club pick Mary McGarry Morris applauded Patterson for his gift.
“Usually, contributions are to institutions, nonprofits ... but this is for a small-town bookstore and shows local support. It’s amazing,” said McGarry Morris, who always launches her national book tours with a kickoff at her local bookseller in Andover.
Hugo said he hopes Patterson’s gesture catches on and other authors and publishers follow suit. He said while the money is nice, it’s the exposure Patterson’s pledge has received that he hopes will pay dividends for the future of the independent bookseller.
“Hopefully, it puts us back in someone’s consciousness ... people sometimes forget we’re here,” Hugo said.
— Staff writer Judy Wakefield contributed to this report.