A River runs through it: Bill Reilly and Mindy Ostrow stand in front of their bookstore that has become a vital part of the downtown Oswego community. Jon Dufort photo.
River’s End resides within a refurbished building from the 1850s. A nearly life-sized mural of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker on the side of the building shows pride in this famous Oswego resident, the first woman to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the second woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States. A purple awning shades plate glass windows which invite passers-by to check out tidy displays.
Inside, old and new also commingle: bright paperbacks rest on sturdy wooden shelves; ductwork crisscross an antique tin ceiling. Crisp, efficient signs make it easy for adults to find their way around the store; a cheery pastel mural and a lighthouse hideaway are magnets for children. Books written by local authors or that have local interest are displayed as prominently as the best sellers. Short blurbs by the small staff (only eight, including the owners) point out favorite reads.
Bill Reilly and Mindy Ostrow first considered opening a bed-and-breakfast but a little research revealed that what Oswego really needed was a bookstore. They wanted to connect to the community, not just operate a business. Over the years the couple has built loyalty by working directly with all segments of the local population from SUNY Oswego students to scout troops and the senior community. They make a point of going out of their way for their customers, even offering to hand-deliver to those who can’t get around easily. Well-behaved dogs are even allowed inside. Special events like book signings, live readings and musical performances make their bookstore as much a meeting place as a marketplace.
Reilly also wants the store to act as “an extension of the Oswego Chamber of Commerce.” The store’s location makes it a natural spot for visitors to stop for information. “Our store is in historic downtown, at what I like to describe as the Fifth Avenue and 57th Street of Oswego,” Reilly said. His helpful staff seeks to put Oswego’s best foot forward.
Supporting other local businesses has also been part of the plan. Coffee and tea are made available to browsers by the Coffee Connection. Another fruitful collaboration happened in 2000 when River’s End partnered with Flowers by Mr. John. The local florist created a lush window display that continued out onto the sidewalk for a promotion of the novel Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray. The display won the publisher’s national promo competition, as well as boosting sales for both businesses. Ostrow even appears as the face of “Granola Jo,” a healthy treat made by Port City Café and Bakery. Unfortunately, a collaboration with Ontario Winds involving The Kite Runner never came to pass.
The strategy, if you can call it that, has paid off. Some customers are so loyal that they will call from mega-bookstores like Borders to see if River’s End has a title in stock, and then wait until they are back in town to purchase it. Personal service and community involvement also seem to create a defense against cyberspace. Reilly gratefully acknowledged that his customers “are a mouse-click away from buying the book online, but they are taking the extra time and effort to get it from us.”
Rehabilitation of the Bridge Street bridge has temporarily severed Route 104, the main road through town, which passes right by the shop. Apparently even this has not disturbed business much. Ostrow commented that the reduced traffic makes the corner much quieter, which makes it a nicer place for a stroll. It’s also easier to find a parking space. The repairs are due to be completed in November.
There are a few events leading up to Sunday’s anniversary that are part of an extended celebration. On Wednesday, May 14, there will be a CD release party for singer-songwriter Gina Holsopple and bass guitarist Matt Wood. Hometown favorite Laurie Halse Anderson returns to her favorite bookstore for a signing of the paperback release of Twisted on Thursday, May 15, 6 to 8 p.m. Visit her and the comfortable chair she sat in at the River’s End to write much of the manuscript. Come Sunday, May 18, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to enjoy refreshments and visual highlights of the past 10 years.
River’s End Bookstore is at 19 W. Bridge St., Oswego. It is open Mondays to Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 342-0077 or visit riversendbookstore.com for more information.