For Alison Tucker, the world is literally an open book. Thousands of them, along with maps and videos, line the shelves of Gulliver's, one of the few travel bookshops in the country. Her closest competitors are in urban centers like Boston, St. Louis, Baltimore, New York City and Berkley.
"I like Portsmouth," Alison says. "I looked at the demographics and noted that a lot of people here travel, and I thought they would support a specialty bookstore like this -- and it's proving to be true."
Gulliver's, she says, is unique. Besides books, maps, globes and a rental library of 500 travel videos, she carries a unique line of accessories.
"You don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money to travel, if you know how," Alison says. "I'm always finding new things for travelers -- money belts, neck pillows, map readers, journals, luggage tags -- and lots of good advice.."
First, however, the customer has to find Gulliver's, tucked into a
brick-paved alley, down one flight from the street.
"I can't afford to be on Market Street. I am a destination store. People
come here for a reason. It's why I haven't had to advertise by
traditional means. I depend on loyal repeat customers who advertise me by word of mouth."
Tourists usually find the shop using a colorful street map distributed free in shops all over the city. Only advertisers are displayed prominently on the map produced by Resort Maps of Vermont. Alison says it has been her number one source of out-of-town visitors, and dollar for dollar, her best advertising investment.
"I also made a big effort when I first opened, and talked personally to all the travel agencies, letting them know I was a resource for them. While travel agents and travel booksellers have been hit hard by the Internet, Alison tells her customers that it takes more than free advice to plan a trip.
"Any responsible traveler should be doing research," she says. " But I give people good reasons why a good travel agent is worth his or her weight
in gold, despite the Internet."
"Technically, they say it takes five years for a bookshop to become profitable. I kept my expenses low and was profitable the first year."
She did it by working seven-days a week solo for the first full year. Now Allison takes a day off each week. Assistant Denise Wilford, herself an experienced world traveler, fills in on Wednesdays and when Alison is on vacation -- this year to Morocco and Paris.
Before opening Gulliver's, Allison was a serious globetrotter, working as a corporate account manager for a high tech firm. She has visited Asia, spent a month in New Guinea, seen Australia, China, Africa, and all through Europe. She left the corporate world in 1992 and took two years off, traveling in Indonesia, hanging out in Bali, scuba diving in Micronesia. Landing in Portsmouth, she worked for awhile as a corporate consultant to a travel company.
"I had always been toying with the idea of a travel bookshop -- but it was impractical, a fantasy. I would mentally create businesses while traveling on a plane, then destroy them."
Then she met Susan Ekholm of The Compleat Mystery Book Shop, another unique Portsmouth shop.
"I bought a lot of mysteries to read while traveling, so I bounced ideas of her for my fantasy book shop. Will I starve to death? She recommended I take a course with the American Booksellers Association. It was very intense. For the first day they try everything to talk you out of it."
"Then Susan called and said she was buying this building and the shop
underneath hers was moving out. She told me the cost, and knowing what
what rent was going for all over towns, I just grabbed it -- and things
have mushroomed from there."
"The best thing about my job is the people," she says. "Bills, orders, bookkeeping are not fun. I enjoy talking to them about where they've been."
"I mean, here they are," she says, getting drawn into a recent encounter. "It's an anniversary trip to Europe. They've never been there before. It's exciting to get caught up in their excitement."
"I give them what I laughingly call Alison's Safety 101 lecture -- about the scammers, gypsy problems, how to protect your belongings and yourself."
Alison greets each customer who steps down to her underground planet. She asks where they are going, and where they have been. Like Gulliver himself, these strangers have tales to tell -- of amazing foods, exotic scenes, dangerous encounters, and unforgettable adventures.
Copyright © 2001 SeacoastNH.com, SeacoastStore.com and J. Dennis Robinson.. All rights reserved.
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