On a gloomy and rainy day, everyone wants somewhere cozy and warm to go; even better when that cozy place has a selection books, lots of coffee and tons of bakery treats. Crackskull’s, located at 86 Main St. in Newmarket, has been a go-to place for nearly 20 years for University of New Hampshire (UNH) students looking for a good read, great coffee or just needing a place to relax and see friendly faces.
Crackskull’s opened up in 2000 as a used bookstore. James Kimball, who first opened the store, chose the title Crackskull’s because “it’s a word not used since the 1800s, and means ‘nitwit,’” according to Michelle Lesmerises, the current owner. Lesmerises bought the shop in 2006 when the bookshop and coffee shop were already combined. While she doesn’t know why the original owner decided to combine the two, she said, “as a 90s teenager, the thought of owning a used bookstore or coffeeshop was ideal. I worked at both coffee shops and bookstores, and when I saw that Crackskull’s was for sale in 2006, I jumped.” Although Lesmerises never finished college, she accrued a lot of experience as a bookkeeper and in the security industry.
Lesmerises is also a single mother whose daughter, Mira, likes to hang around the store and meet the regulars. While Lesmerises explained the initial difficulty of raising a baby and running the store, she said it’s become easier since Mira became old enough to help out with work and errands.
“I think she’s proud to be a part of this place with me,” Lesmerises said.
Students and community members can find well-maintained used books at Crackskull’s, where they carry “all types of used books and a small number of local authors’ publications.”
“We also sell used vinyl, Fieldnotes products and local artwork,” Lesmerises said. The books they buy can’t have any writing, highlighting or underlining in them, can’t have any spine damage, mold or water damage and can’t be coverless. They also don’t carry magazines, encyclopedia sets, comic books or textbooks.
Even though Crackskull’s is a coffee and book shop, Lesmerises said she doesn’t even think of it as a coffee shop half the time. “It’s a living room, it’s an art gallery, it’s a first date spot, it’s a safe space, a political hangout, a writer’s den… and yes, we also have awesome coffee and munchies,” she said. Lesmerises hosts a new artist every month at Crackskull’s, showcasing their work on her walls with descriptions and prices for anyone looking around the room. These works can range from photography to pop-art to paintings.
In addition to the art on the walls, Crackskull’s hosts Prose, Poetry and Popsicles on the first Tuesday of every month. The event has people reading their own work, sharing lyrics, reading from a novel or just coming to support local writers, poets and lyricists from 6:30 to 8 p.m. This has expanded to PP&P for Pipsqueaks and PP&P for Young Writers, encouraging people of all ages to explore their literary interests.
The coffee that Lesmerises serves is roasted and purchased from Port City Coffee Roasters in Portsmouth. There are three blends and three flavors available each day, as well as the usual regular, French vanilla, hazelnut and decaf coffees, plus the “Coffee of the Day.” For those who want a drink with a little more excitement, Crackskull’s offers macchiatos, breves, Italian sodas, chai chillers, mudslide mochas, caramel spiced cider and many more unique options. This culminates in a variety of beverages enticing a large crowd, ranging from the seasoned coffee drinker to someone just starting to get used to caffeine.
As for the decor, one can’t help but look at the armchairs by the big window that looks over Newmarket’s downtown, the large floral gray couch that looks like you could melt into or the intimate tables that scatter the main cafe floor. The smell of old books and black coffee are overwhelming, but in the best sense of the word, giving the customer a sense of comfort and relaxation. It would be easy for anyone to sip coffee, eat sweets and look through old books all day.
Crackskull’s Coffee and Books is open Monday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.