Books on the Common was established in 1984 by Bob and Sally Silbernagel in a tiny 450 sq. ft. space. The original building, now torn down, was located where the present Talbots is now. Bob and Sally ran the store together, putting in long hours, with help from only one part-time employee. Within a year, they became one of the first tenants in the new Copps Hill Common complex, leasing 980 square feet at the rear of the new building. Just a few years later, they boldly doubled that space and expanded into the adjacent store, for a total of nearly 2,100 square feet – above average size for an independent bookstore. The store remained in that location for 24 years.
With the additional shelf space, Bob and Sally were able to expand their inventory and increase the number of titles in stock. Over the years, their three children helped out at the store, and more staff was hired. Books on the Common offered outstanding customer service, wonderful conversation, and great book recommendations – all critical to the survival of independents. Sadly, on May 16, 1991, Bob lost a long battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 49, and Sally was left to run the store on her own. She hired additional staff and kept it going, despite the increasing competitive pressures to come.
The 1990s brought the “killer B’s” to bookselling business – the chain stores Barnes & Noble and Borders expanded rapidly throughout the U.S., and both opened locations in Danbury. Encore Books opened (and closed) in nearby Copps Hill Common during that decade, and Books on the Green came (and went) on Main Street. And then there was Amazon – internet bookselling started with the dot-com explosion in the ’90s and continues to challenge all “bricks & mortar” independent booksellers nationwide.
Through it all, Books on the Common thrived, thanks to the loyal support of our customers. The residents of Ridgefield, Redding, North & South Salem and other surrounding towns have patronized the store all these years because they want to talk to other readers about books, they seek recommendations from a human being, not a computer program, and they prefer to browse among real, not virtual, bookshelves.
After 20 years in business, Sally decided it was time to retire, and the store is now owned by Ellen Burns and Darwin Ellis – two long-time Ridgefielders and avid readers. Ellen and Darwin maintained the friendly, comfortable atmosphere of the store while bringing it up-to-date by computerizing the store operations. After 5 more years in Copps Hill, it was decided that a better, more visible location was needed. Fortunately, a wonderful space on Ridgefield’s historic Main Street became available in early 2009 and Books on the Common was re-born in its new space at 404 Main Street – known to old-time Ridgefielders as Bedient’s – the hardware store that operated from the building for 100 years.
In December, 2014, Books on the Common was one of 159 independent bookstores nationwide to receive a grant from James Patterson and in December, 2016, Ellen and Darwin were recipients of the Ridgefield Library’s Paccadolmi Award, honoring members of the community for their dedication to the Library and its patrons. Through the years, the most important things have not changed – our passion for books, our willingness to make great book recommendations, and our ability to provide outstanding service to our customers – our fellow book lovers.