Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Local News

Breakwater Books’ New Owners Say Right Place, Right Time


Richard Parent, left, and Paul Listro are the new owners of Breakwater Books in downtown Guilford. Photo by Jesse Williams/The Courier

Richard Parent, left, and Paul Listro are the new owners of Breakwater Books in downtown Guilford. (Photo by Jesse Williams/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

For almost 50 years, Breakwater Books has offered personal service for residents who’d rather peruse thoughtful displays and chat with someone friendly and familiar instead of trawling the Internet when searching for their next read. When the shop went up for sale for the second time in two years, some worried that local tie might be lost, but the new shop owners say they’re committed to keeping the store a hub for local readers and authors.

When Liza Fixx, who purchased the store since 2017 and had worked there for many years before that, decided to sell Breakwater this past September in order to spend more time with her family, she knew she would need to find people who understood the importance of this kind of feeling and unique community to take over the business.

Enter Paul Listro and Richard Parent.

Listro and Parent, who until recently lived in New York City and worked in finance and law, respectively—mostly in larger media companies—might not from their professional background appear to be people who’d appreciate and enjoy the kind of everyday effort that goes into running a small-town Connecticut bookstore. In fact, though, it is the kind of work they have always dreamed of doing.

“The idea was to come here and do something for ourselves,” said Listro. “We spent a long time working for other people, and we had some pretty obvious business skills and experience. We started to think of what we were passionate about. We’re passionate about the arts—theater, cinema, literature.”

Parent had taken a shot at making a career in acting before getting into law, he said, and Listro, an avid reader and self-described sci-fi and Star Wars nerd, decided together that opening a bookstore would be the best way they could share their passions with a community while (hopefully) still making ends meet.

“Independent bookstores are kind of on the rise, despite places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble,” said Listro. “Especially in places like Guilford, where there is a very strong community sense.”

The original plan had been to start their own business, uprooting their corporate lives and living full time on the Connecticut shoreline, which before had been more of a getaway destination. Listro said it was just very good timing that Fixx put Breakwater up for sale just when he and Parent were ready to make their move.

“It was really important for [Fixx] that she was selling the store to someone who would keep it a bookstore,” Listro said. “Because that was very important to the community.”

While they took over the shop on Oct. 25, Fixx remains involved with the store, Listro said, which was something she had told the Courier she hoped to do, once she sold the store.

Listro grew up in East Haven and said he was familiar with Breakwater and “loved Guilfrord, loved the green” before any of these plans or thoughts came up. Though he and Parent had long discussed starting their business from scratch, Listro said it was a “no brainer” to seize the opportunity of being involved in a bookstore that had a legacy spanning decades and with a reputation all along the shoreline.

“That made a big difference,” he said.

Though much of their professional background has been in “practical vocations,” which is valuable from the purely business side of running the store, Listro also said both he and Parent have some familiarity with the kind of intimate, hands-on work a small business requires. Listro worked in three start-ups, for instance.

The important part, he said, was that books and art are something they are passionate about.

“It’s about things we talk about in our daily lives,” Listro said. “The books we like to read. Being on the floor in [Breakwater] with the customers, it sort of becomes...our greatest joy, because our days are spent talking about books—what people want to read, what they want to buy, what they like to see in our store.”

One of the questions or concerns Listro said many people have is wondering whether there will be changes to the store. Listro lauded the work Fixx did in improving infrastructure and inventory at Breakwater, and said for the most part, he could only think of “minimal” changes.

Once the holiday rush is over, Listro said he and Parent will start talking more about what new categories or shelves they might add, as well as events the store could host.

Parent said he was particularly impressed with the number of local authors, and said that a section purely for local writers was something they were considering, along with bringing those writers in for events.

Creating a balance between their own passions and the powerful legacy of the store is something to which both Parent and Listro said they are looking forward.

Listro said he would like to have a dedicated Star Wars section in the store, “if I can get away with it,” while Parent said he hoped he might be able to bring some theater friends and colleagues in for events.

More than anything, though, Listro and Parent said they are happy and grateful to be part of the vibrant community that Guilford and Breakwater have built.

“[People] have just shown us such kindness, and given us such good wishes,” Listro said, “and wishes for good luck—that we took this on, and that they are still going to have Breakwater Books.”

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email at .

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