The Student News Site of University of New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

Follow Us on Twitter

Historic Bookstore Closing: Avenue Victor Hugo Books

After 50 years of selling old books in Boston and in Lee, Avenue Victor Hugo Books is officially closing their doors and moving to online only with the last of the collection.
Emma Kostyun
Just one aisle in Vince McCaffrey’s book store, which will close at the end of October, holds hundreds of stories.

LEE, NH- A red barn sits nestled at an intersection in Lee, New Hampshire. What’s inside is not the typical barn animals or hay bales, but instead a bookstore with a rich historic past. Sadly, October will be Avenue Victor Hugo Books’ last month open. 

Loud classical music melodically blares in the background of owner Vince McCaffrey’s shop, who can often be found sitting behind the counter.

Starting from the age of 15, McCaffrey was selling books. He sold old books he found in attics, in basements and for cheap at stores. This continued as he attended the now-closed Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro, Vermont. McCaffrey sat in his classes imagining what he thought was the perfect bookshop, based on what he saw in San Diego, California when he had visited there. 

“All I knew about bookstores back then was basically what I experienced from this hunt for bookstores my whole life,” said McCaffrey. 

Before stepping foot into designing a bookstore of his own, McCaffrey found himself working as a temp in the mutual fund department of State Street Bank in Boston, Massachusetts. While working there he met Thais Coburn, who was also only there temporarily and who is now his wife.

As McCaffrey sat slouched in his big desk chair he paused a moment to point out an old black and white picture he had hanging next to the counter. As he reflected on it he began telling the story behind his first bookstore. Originally from New York, he decided to stay in Boston for Coburn; he built from scratch his own street cart to sell his books from. Starting in 1973, he roamed the streets of Boston selling books. 

In 1975, McCaffrey found a small storefront location on Newbury St. which at that time was not as fancy as it is today. 

“I thought I knew enough about bookselling to open a bookstore, which I didn’t, but the best thing in the world to start a business with is ignorance. The less you know sometimes the better because if you know too much you don’t do it,” said McCaffrey. 

Planning out his vision for the store in Boston, it was better than McCaffrey thought. The Newbury St. location stayed open for the next 28 and a half years before the rent began to go up as the street got more and more expensive. Trying to stay in Boston, they found themselves above a paint store until the building unfortunately caught fire.

After that McCaffrey and Coburn ended up in Abington, Mass. working out of an old warehouse that used to be a shoe factory and was coincidentally once owned by Coburn’s grandfather. They were there for the next ten years, “which is an amazingly long time for a place that I hated,” said McCaffrey.

“My daughter bought that house right there, we moved up and I took over her barn,” said McCaffrey, pointing to the building next door. His daughter Elizabeth, who is one of three, lives at the house with her husband, kids and her parents. 

At the end of October, Avenue Victor Hugo Books will close its doors for the last time. Starting their online selling in 1996, this will continue with the last of the collection, however, this will give McCaffrey the opportunity to have more writing time. 

“There’s really no retirement to it, it’s just changing my situation so that I can write more,” said McCaffrey. 

He has been self-publishing his books for a few years now and looks forward to finishing the last three novels that he needs to finish. 

“I don’t think I’ll do anything else, that’s unless my eyesight goes kaput,” he said. “Other than that I’d rather croak right in the aisles of my bookstore.” 

McCaffrey and Coburn are hoping to find a modest apartment in Newmarket, moving only about 20 shelves or 6,000 books to sell online which allots time for him to scribble. Surprisingly, McCaffrey doesn’t have a personal collection. 

“One of the things you learn as a bookseller is not to keep books because the books you like are the very ones you want to tell people to buy,” he said. 

McCaffrey’s current book pick is “A Time for Gifts” by Patrick Lee Former, which is about a 16-year-old runaway’s travels across Europe in 1932.

“Usually it depends on the time of day and the day of the year,” he said. “I have a lot of favorite books, so it is very hard to pick one out.” 

Even though the bookstore is coming to an end, there’s lots of time to go check it out in person before it closes. McCaffrey will continue to sell books there every Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October 29. 

“Don’t let your desire or your reach get cut off,” said McCaffrey. “Do what you want to because you want to.” 

For upwards of 60 years he has been doing what he loves with the people he loves and will continue to do so until he can’t anymore.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The New Hampshire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *