With its historical buildings, brick sidewalks, and New England charm, downtown Newburyport is always special, but the fall makes it a storybook scene. Nestled into a perfect space in Market Square is a new bookstore, Illume, which makes the appeal of this seaside city that much more magical.
The moment you walk through the glass-windowpane door, you are in an inviting space, complete with wood-beam ceilings and delicate chandeliers that cast a cozy light.
The shop is lightly scented, and there is music playing in the background. In one section, a couch and table full of beautiful book covers beckons. In a back corner, an ongoing game of chess is played on a specialty board (available for purchase in the shop) by customers who come and go—your move! All that you feel is intentional and thanks to owner Jen Perry, who has put love into every nook of this shop that calls you to curl up with a good book. Additionally, Perry’s daughter, Elle, has been instrumental in bringing Illume to life; she also manages the shop’s social media, helping the brand to connect with customers online.
Among the many inviting design elements are the books themselves, which face forward, rather than with spines facing out. Explains Perry, “Deciding to have the books facing outward was very important to me.” While this choice takes up more space on a shelf, it also allows for each book to shine. It was this concept that served as inspiration for the store’s name, Illume, derived from the idea of illumination and spotlighting books. Further enhancing each book selection are placards with quotes about the book from well-known people (think Andrew Garfield and Timothée Chalamet). This detail has helped to spark interest by allowing readers to see what a writer, playwright, actor, politician, or other public figure has had to say about a title.
As Perry puts it, “I built the perfect bookstore for me.” A lifelong fan of books and bookstores, Perry sometimes found the process of perusing a large store to be overwhelming, which led her to create Illume in a way that made sense for her. Perry describes Illume as a “niche, independent, curated bookstore with all the genres”—from bestsellers to backlist titles to those she selects for cultural relevancy, diversity of genre, children’s books, science fiction, mystery, special orders, and more. A Newburyport resident herself, Perry has taken care to feature local authors, including the latest works from Meg Mitchell Moore (Summer Stage) Colleen Temple (Summer Breakdown) as well as children’s author Elizabeth Lorayne and her popular Piratess Tilly series, among other authors.
Four months in, Perry is delighted. “We are having the best conversations. People come in with a cup of coffee, walk around and organically experience the store,” which keeps them coming back not only for their next book but also for the in-store experience. Perry loves interacting with the community. You can always look forward to author signings and talks as well as events with local artists and partnerships with local organizations, including an event to benefit Newburyport’s Theater in the Open this fall. This space is very much “art meets bookstore. I see this as a venue for small, intimate events as much as it is a place for great books” says Perry.
10 Market Square, Newburyport, illumebooks.com
Craving even more books? We've got options. Check out our list of 10 great North Shore bookstores.