Today’s Meet a Mom interview is with Ipswich mom of 2, Hannah Harlow. I first met Hannah when she suggested a great list of summer reading books for both kids and adults that we featured in this post. After learning more about how she and her brother bought the adorable Bookshop of Beverly Farms right before the pandemic hit, I was struck by her fierce determination to get their new business going. Keep reading to learn more about Hannah.
Where are you from originally and what town do you live in now?
I was born and raised in Andover, Massachusetts. Now I live in Ipswich. With a few places in between.
How many children do you have and what are their age(s)?
I have two boys, ages 11 and 8.
What’s your favorite family activity on the North Shore?
One thing we look forward to every year is the Old Newbury Bonfire in January. It’s always SO cold. I love the awesome spectacle of the trees aflame and the warmth it brings after the hot chocolate has not quite done the trick. I also love running into friends on the frozen field and the way everything looks in the light of the fire as the night grows darker.
Where’s your favorite place to eat and/or shop on the North Shore?
Yikes, I like food a lot, so it’s hard to pick just one, but getting ramen at Kokeshi in Salem is a favorite outing for everyone in the family. When I shop, I tend to head just down the road to downtown Ipswich — Henry Bear’s Park for kids’ birthday presents, Betsy Frost Design and Cellar Door for grown-ups’ birthday presents, and there’s a great new shop called Labor-in-Vain, which so far has been for presents for myself.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to buy The Book Shop of Beverly Farms.
I’ve loved books and reading and writing my whole life. For 17 years I worked in the Marketing Department at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in New York and Boston. In 2007, I got my MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. I have volunteered with the Newburyport Literary Festival for the past five years. In 2017, there were some changes both at HMH and in my personal life that got me thinking about a change. How else could I work with books? I wanted to be closer to home, to be my own boss, and to live my values. And by living my values, I mean that I wanted to be part of a business that kept dollars local and a business in which I could support the writers and artists I love and believe in. Bookstores have always been places I love to spend time in, so why not find a way to spend all my time in one? I found myself a darn cozy shop.
What’s your favorite part about being a small business owner?
One of the reasons I wanted to own a bookstore was to be part of a community. I wanted my work to be more personal, I guess you could say. Early in the pandemic, a gentleman called to say his coworker’s sister had passed away; I helped him pick out two books and a card; I wrote out the note he dictated and shipped the gift. Over the past few months, I’ve hand delivered books to people unable to leave their assisted living facilities. On multiple occasions, people from the UK have called about having birthday gifts delivered to relatives living locally. I love this part of the job. How personal it is.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
I purchased the bookstore (with my brother) in January 2020. We only had the store open for a month and a half before the pandemic hit and we had to close. The weird thing for me is that business during COVID-19 is our normal. But obviously it’s very different from what we thought we were signing up to do. On the bright side, it’s forced us to figure out things we might have dragged our feet on, like adding a shipping option to all orders made through our website. You can bet come March, we figured that out really quickly!
But the biggest impacts have been how people shop, what they shop for, and the availability of product from publishers and wholesalers. A lot of shopping has shifted online, of course, and since that’s not how the shop was set up to function, it’s not our most efficient way of doing business. It also means that a lot of our non-book product is not as visible. Sales of greeting cards, candles, stuffed animals, journals, and other small gift product dropped significantly in the spring and early summer because those were a lot harder for us to feature on our website. Since Covid-19 has slowed things down at the warehouse and production level, it’s taking longer to print books and it’s taking longer for books to ship to us. But fortunately we have the absolute best customers, all of whom have been extremely understanding of the current situation and have waited patiently for an order when a book has been held up.
How can moms and members of the local community support your business during COVID-19?
We’re open for browsing, so please come see us. Keep buying books. Purchasing gift cards is another great way to support us. Tell your friends about us. Tag us on social media. But also! Shop for the holidays early—since we can only have limited customers (4) in the store at a given time, I worry about how we will accommodate everyone as we get closer to the end of December.
Any tips for balancing work & motherhood?
Now, in addition to being a working mom, you also need to be a remote learning expert? Yeah, it’s a lot. And the mom guilt is real, but you have to try and not let it get you down. It’s okay to take a break every once in a while and get some alone time. It’s not just okay, it’s necessary. It makes me feel more rejuvenated so I can be more present with your kids.
What is the best piece of mom advice you ever received?
My brother and sister-in-law’s kids are a few years older than our kids and they’ve been really good role models. We basically do whatever they do. They used the book Healthy Sleep Habit, Happy Child, and so we used that too, and our kids are all great sleepers and that has probably made us the happiest in the long run. I really love sleeping.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you need some “me” time?
Run. Write. Read. Do nothing.
Shop the Bookshop of Beverly Farms online at bookshopofbeverlyfarms.com or in person at 40 West Street, Beverly, MA. Follow along to see new titles and merchandise at @bookshopofbeverlyfarms on Instagram and @BeverlyFarmsBookShop on Facebook. I’ve also recently tested out her online ordering and store pick-up system and thought it was really easy to use and highly recommend it! And if you were familiar with her store under the previous owners, there’s a lot that has changed, including a bright and airy room dedicated to children’s books on the first floor now!