Phoenix Books to Move to Burlington's Church Street | Business | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Phoenix Books to Move to Burlington's Church Street


Published June 20, 2024 at 10:52 a.m.
Updated July 15, 2024 at 4:21 p.m.

Phoenix Books' location on Bank Street in Burlington - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Phoenix Books' location on Bank Street in Burlington
After 12 years on Bank Street in Burlington, independent bookstore Phoenix Books will move around the corner to the Church Street Marketplace at the end of August. Owners Renee Reiner and Michael DeSanto said they jumped at the opportunity to move into the former Slate location at 89 Church Street.

“There are many communities that have a crown jewel, and the Church Street Marketplace is ours,” Reiner said. “We feel pretty grateful to now be a part of that.”

Phoenix Books opened its first bookstore in Essex in 2007 and later expanded to Burlington and Rutland. Like the Bank Street location, the Church Street spot has two floors — and that’s where the similarities end. The new shop will have retail on the first floor, with staff offices and an event space on the second floor. DeSanto, who has an MFA in theater directing, envisions a black-box theater upstairs where shoppers can attend acoustic concerts and small productions, as well as author panel discussions and book launches.

Michael DeSanto and Renée Reiner in Phoenix Books' new location on Church Street in Burlington - COURTESY OF RENÉE REINER
  • courtesy of Renée Reiner
  • Michael DeSanto and Renée Reiner in Phoenix Books' new location on Church Street in Burlington
“We think it's a super symbiotic relationship for Phoenix Books to finally be on Church Street,” Reiner said, noting that money spent at locally owned businesses is more likely to stay in the community. She hopes the new location will bring in more sales from tourists who frequent the pedestrian mall.

According to Kara Alnasrawi, director of the Church Street Marketplace, the busy thoroughfare drew just over 2 million visitors last year — on par with pre-pandemic numbers. Her department's mission is to support Burlington businesses, 90 percent of which she said are local.

“They are owned by our friends and neighbors. Every dollar you spend locally has a larger impact on the local economy,” Alnasrawi said. Her message to shoppers is: “If you love your downtown, then come support your downtown.”

It's a timely plea, as Burlington shop owners have been struggling with increased retail theft related to citywide spikes in substance use and homelessness in recent years. In January, Seven Days reported that stores called in more than 800 incidents of theft last year, compared to 320 in 2019.

Downtown has also seen multiple businesses close or move elsewhere in the past year. Slate, the former occupant of 89 Church Street, has continued selling home goods online as it works to open a new store in a not-yet-disclosed location. The Body Shop, El Gato Cantina and Black Diamond have also left Church Street. Last September, Outdoor Gear Exchange announced a downsize to its Church Street location, citing slower foot traffic as a concern; it opened a new location in Essex soon after.
“We do have businesses moving out,” Alnasrawi said. “I can attribute that to some of the challenging street-level behavior that we have been experiencing.” Still, these issues aren’t solely responsible for the turnover, she said, emphasizing that there is strong interest from businesses who want to move into these spaces.

Phoenix Books is just one example. Pointing to new businesses such as Flora & Fauna (70 Church Street), Riko’s Pizza (83 Church Street) and Little Istanbul (99 Church Street), Alnasrawi noted that nearly all former vacancies are under new leases.
As a community member, Reiner recognizes the city’s struggles. She’s concerned by retail theft and sees it as a symptom of larger societal ills.

“When it happens to me at my business, it just feels awful that people do that to me and to others — [and] that folks need to do it. It feels icky on every level,” she said. But those challenges haven’t curbed the bookstore owners’ enthusiasm about starting their next chapter in a more prominent location.

89 Church Street in Burlington, the soon-to-be-home of Phoenix Books - NINA SABLAN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Nina Sablan ©️ Seven Days
  • 89 Church Street in Burlington, the soon-to-be-home of Phoenix Books
“Michael and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have found this work and to be part of a community in this way,” Reiner said. “I've been at this work for 28 and a half years, and we are now getting to Church Street — and that's fabulous.”

Putting on her bookseller hat, Reiner proceeded to draw a connection between the importance of community in Burlington and in Gather, by Norwich author Ken Cadow. The young adult novel about a rural teen's struggles to hold on to his family home as his mother tries to overcome opioid addiction has relevant themes that she believes everyone can learn from.

"This book is important," Reiner said. "I want this book in everybody's hands."

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