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Going from North Bridge to South Bridge Street isn’t a big move, geographically, but it made a big difference for the owners of Bella Books.
Gary Guida and Kim Cashman had been operating a used book and antique shop for a year in a location that they shared with another business. Moving to a spot next to the Bedford Social Club, across the street from Still Waters Cafe, has tripled their space.
“It looks more like a proper book store,” Guida said.
The space gave them the opportunity to display their mix of books and antiques in an attractive, customer friendly manner. The layout, according to Guida, is all Cashman’s.
“She did all the decorating in here," he commented. “I just painted.”
The layout was designed so that the entrance is a living room, the center a dining room and the back of the store a garden. Antiques are displayed in each section according to the type of books displayed there.
Another good aspect about their new location is that the Bedford Social Club, Still Waters and Clam Diggers bring people to that end of Bridge Street after 5 p.m. A lot of people who patronize these places also stop at their book store.
Furthermore, the Bedford Farmers’ Market parking lot offers ample parking and Bella has a back entrance that opens to that parking lot. This means that Farmers’ Market activity on Tasty Tuesdays and Saturdays brings them customers.
“We have really great neighbors,” said Guida, who notes that the businesses promote each other.
The location offers a couple more features that Guida and Cashman value. They said that Bedford has a beautiful Centertown area, and this move keeps them there. It also keeps them in an old building.
“We wanted that certain ambiance that only an old building can offer,” said Guida.
Guida said that the building they are in dates to 1900. It once housed a pool hall and there is still a duck pin bowling alley upstairs. Guida said the Bedford Boys bowled there. They also found shoe shine chairs in the basement that date to the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Both Guida and Cashman like books. Guida tends to specialize in history and the classics.
“Kim reads everything,” he said.
He said that their own reading helps them when people ask for recommendations.
Then there is Bella, the little black cat. Bella doesn’t do much of anything, but she was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Guida and Cashman said that she was a little starving kitten that showed up outside when they were moving in last month. They took her in, named her after the store, a name they had chosen because both of them have female relatives with that name.
“She’s putting on weight and is a lot more playful and active,” said Cashman.
She’s still a bit skittish. Right now, only Guida and Cashman can pick her up.
The store’s selection of antiques are period pieces dating from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries. Guida said a period piece is an antique that has not been reworked since it was made.
“We also have a large selection of Limoges,” said Guida.
Limoges is a type of fine china named for the region of France where it originated. The elaborately molded pieces were widely imported to the United States a century ago.
Their books are both new and used with the used books being in what they call gently used condition.
Cashman said that their used books offer a good opportunity to find something that is no longer in print. She also said they offer prices that are better than what you can find on the Internet, and there are no shipping charges.
If you don’t see what you’re looking for on the shelves, they may still have it. Cashman and Guida said that they have a storeroom full of books.
“We have a great inventory,” said Guida.
They have more than 7,000 books. Selections include a room of children’s books, teen selections, books on gardening, cooking, crafts, home improvement, mysteries and science fiction. They even have an Oprah Book Club section.
Bella Books offers a membership program. A $10 annual fee gives member a 15 percent discount on used books and a 25 percent discount on new.
If you’re looking for a specific title in a new book, something they don’t have in stock, Bella Books will order it for you. There’s no shipping charge to pay and Cashman said that it takes between two and four days to get ordered books delivered.
A Long Island native, Guida was a farmer in Massachusetts for 30 years, raising fruit, vegetables and flowers. After 30 years, he had had enough of New England and migrated south.
Cashman is from Maine and came to this area when her husband had a job transfer.
They said that they started the bookstore in Bedford because it is a sophisticated community with an educated population. The town also draws tourists. They also saw that their combination of new and used books and antiques fit a market niche. Cashman notes that the nearest used book store is in Lynchburg.
Bella Books is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday through Friday it is open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. and from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturdays.
The late hours Wednesday through Saturday takes advantage of the opportunity that evening activity in that part of town offers.
“The street comes alive,” said Guida. “It’s a real nice atmosphere.”
Cashman agrees, noting that local folks don’t have to go to Lynchburg or Roanoke in the evenings. Guida said that Still Waters has great music.
They are looking forward to Centerfest next month.
“Centerfest last year was good for us,” said Guida.
Even with the bad weather, it rained all day, Centerfest still drew 10,000 people, although that’s half of the usual crowd.