The Dolphin Bookshop keeps independent tradition alive

The Dolphin Bookshop keeps independent tradition alive

In a time when independent bookstores are scarce, the Dolphin Bookshop & Café has remained a staple in Port Washington, supplementing its book sales with a diverse range of products.

“We’re not just a bookstore,” said Robyn Carthagine, an employee since 2014. “We’re a community store that specializes in a wide range of products, including books, toys, presents, cards and more. It’s our wide-range selection that’s appealing.”

In September, the Dolphin — which opened in 1946 — will celebrate its 70th anniversary, and the owner, Judith Mitzner, said that the store has always focused on the people of Port Washington.

“It’s really for the Port residents,” Mitzner said. “They like having an independent bookstore in their community, and they really count on us for a lot of different things.”

The Dolphin opened in 1946, and in 2013 Mitzner purchased the store from Pattie Vunk, who had inherited it from her mother, Dorothy. 

Mitzner worked at the Dolphin for three years and, after leaving for health reasons and returning, she said she was given  the opportunity to purchase the store.

The Dolphin, which is located at 299 Main St., doesn’t just sell to the community, but interacts with the community, too, Carthagine said. 

The Dolphin hosts events for local authors to come in and promote their books.

In the cafe area, the Dolphin hosts an art gallery, lining the walls with artists’ paintings, which people can view  and buy. It’s part of the store’s monthly artist exhibition, Carthagine said.

“It’s really a great opportunity for local artists to promote their work,” she said. “People will come in and see a painting they like and buy it for themselves.”

Mitzner said that although the Dolphin is an independent bookstore, it doesn’t directly compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Instead, she said, it focuses on selling its products and being a community center for people in Port Washington.

With books still being about half of the Dolphin’s business, Carthagine said, people come in regularly seeking book recommendations. 

Employees get on a first-name basis with many customers looking for book recommendations, she added.

“All the time we see customers — and a lot of the time repeat customers — come in and ask us what we’re reading and what we suggest to them,” Carthagine said. “They trust our opinion and we take pride in our suggestions.”

“Let’s be honest, everyone shops on Amazon,” Mitzner said. “There’s great stuff there, but we do things that Amazon doesn’t have the ability to do. There’s no button on Amazon that lets a person suggest books to you. You can’t go to Amazon last minute and say ‘I need something for a birthday party.’ That’s where we come in.”

Aside from books, the Dolphin’s wide-range product inventory draws customers into the store, Mitzner said. 

In the past week, Carthagine said, the store put together five baskets for birthday parties and other events people needed gifts for.

“We do gift baskets and other personalized gifts from scratch,” Carthagine said. “We’ll put whatever someone wants in them, make it look really nice and wrap it up for them.”

Mitzner said that the cafe is just as important to the community as the store. 

On Friday nights, the cafe hosts musicians who perform for community members. It also hosts a writing program for authors who have book ideas and want to get started on them, she said.

“Writers come in and get guidance and get to work on their books,” Mitzner said. “It’s a good experience for them, and it’s fun.”

Mitzner, who travels often, fills the store with products she brings back from other countries. 

Recently, Mitzner visited Vietnam and brought back hand-painted scarves, Carthagine said.

“It’s the little things we have here in the store that make it so great,” Carthagine said. “I love working here. I really do wish I started working here earlier. It’s such a lovely place.”

By Stephen Romano

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