Steve Iwanski is a man on a mission.

That mission… to build a business that serves the Newport community and beyond well past tourist season.

Tiverton native Iwanski is the owner of Charter Books, a new bookstore located at 8 Broadway, right next to Empire Tea and Coffee and around the corner from the Jane Pickens Theatre.

I stopped by the new storefront earlier this week as the staff was filling the shelves in anticipation of a “soft opening” on Saturday, April 24th, Independent Bookstore Day. (While there, I picked up a copy of the new Brandi Carlile memoir, Broken Horses, highly recommended.)

You can tell it’s a labor of love for Iwanski, who has taught school and previously managed a bookstore in Greenwood, Mississippi.

The store is surprisingly spacious, with room to move around. There a lot of space reserved for children’s titles, and a couple of nooks for kids to read in peace. You’ll also find specialty sections from Newport history to birding scattered around the two-story building.

Of course, opening a business in a pandemic is an enormous challenge. I wondered how Iwanski managed to pull it off.

“I’m just feeling lucky we didn’t try to open one year ago. Or worse, if we had opened in February of 2020. Everything moved slowly as we tried to close on the building and get bids from contractors, but at least we weren’t sitting on tons of inventory with bills to pay and employees to lay off,” explained Iwanski.

“There’s still so much uncertainty,” he added, “but I think we all share a hope that the light is at the end of the tunnel and we’ll be able to ride the wave of re-openings and a surge in tourism this summer.”

Iwanski is bullish on the future of local bookstores.

“About once a week, someone steps into our store for the first time and says, ‘Hey! A bookstore! You don’t see many of these around anymore.’ But that’s actually false,” Iwanski explained.

“While Borders folded and Barnes & Noble is shuttering hundreds of stores a year, new indie bookstores are opening at a rate not seen since the 1970s. Hardcover book sales increased 34% last year – even with most stores closed to the public. There was a moment of crisis around 2009 when the rise of e-books prompted hundreds of lame headlines about the death of the book and the end of bookstores. But bookstores are back and stronger than ever.”

Charter Books plans to cater to customer’s needs, particularly those with young families.

“As the parent of two small kids, I know how valuable it is to have something to do on a long Saturday morning. We’re hard at work building up our spacious children’s room. It will feature two small alcoves for little ones to retreat to with a good book.”

“When it’s safe to do so, we’re going to host regular storytimes and events for children,” he added.

“Of course we also have a robust selection of books on Newport and Rhode Island history. I used to manage Turnrow Books in the Mississippi Delta, where records and books about music did really well, so our music section is large and vibrant as well. And we’re seeking whenever possible to offer signed first editions of hot new releases.”

Now more than ever, its critical to support local businesses.

“I want to urge all readers to shop small and shop local. We’re a locally-owned neighborhood business. When you spend money with us, it stays here in the community. We won’t ever beat Amazon on price or inventory, but we’ll beat them all day long in customer service, attention to detail, and support for other community organizations. Jeff Bezos may want to colonize the moon, but he’s not out here salting the sidewalk on Broadway. Shop here and keep us here!”

We couldn’t agree more.

For further details, visit Charter Bookstore’s website here. Check out our interview below from December 2020.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.