RiverRun Bookstore becomes hot spot for candidate stops
Tom Holbrook, owner of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, says his store has been successful in hosting candidates on the campaign trail because of connections through a publisher, his customers and his store’s mailing list. (Photo/Deb Cram)

PORTSMOUTH -- RiverRun Bookstore is on its way to becoming a must-stop for presidential hopefuls on the New Hampshire primary campaign trail.

Sen. Barack Obama's visit caused a national media frenzy this December when he came to promote his book "The Audacity of Hope," and this weekend Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who published "A Prayer for America" in 2003, is slated to speak at the Congress Street store.

Other politically connected speakers have included Howard Dean's 2004 campaign manager, Joe Trippi, and Elizabeth Edwards, whose book "Saving Graces" touched on her marriage to presidential candidate John Edwards and her struggles with breast cancer.

RiverRun owner Tom Holbrook said he's been hosting political figures -- as well as local and national authors -- because he wants his independent bookstore to be a place for public discourse. As a downtown business owner, he said he feels it is his responsibility to provide that to Portsmouth residents.

"Because of the kind of bookstore we are, we can't discount (the book prices)," he said. "We are looking for something to give added value to the customers."

Patrons of RiverRun did see that added value when Obama made a visit to the Seacoast. Holbrook said subscribers to the RiverRun e-mail list were given first crack at the highly coveted tickets.

"Six hundred of the 900 people there were customers," he said. "They knew they got in because they were regular customers."

Things haven't always been this way for RiverRun. In 2004, not one political candidate came to the store, then located on Commercial Alley. Even Wesley Clark's campaign, which was headquartered almost across the street, failed to pay the small-business owner a visit.

So how exactly has Holbrook become so connected in the world of politics? He said it's not because he's a heavy-hitting insider or deeply connected to the Democratic Party -- although he admits his political views do lean that way. Holbrook said he set up the Obama event through a publisher, but most of his events are fostered through his customers and the store's e-mail list. Thus far the politicians have been all Democrats because the majority of his customers seem to belong to that party.

"We are not proselytizing for the Democratic Party," he said. "I'm definitely an old-school social Democrat but because I'm a bookseller, I believe in discourse."

Holbrook is looking forward to the primary because both Republicans and Democrats have competitive races and he would love to host candidates like Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"I'm not sure Portsmouth gets covered by the candidates as it should," he said. "I'd like to see everybody come through."