Huxley & Hiro brings back Market St. bookstore
WILMINGTON – Huxley & Hiro Booksellers opened Friday, bringing a bookstore back to the city’s Market Street corridor for the first time in five years.
Owned by Claire van den Broek and Ryan Eanes, the community-focused, LGBTQ+ and woman-owned bookstore is located at 419 N. Market St. in the LoMa district, adjacent to La Fia Bistro. It fills a retail gap left by the closure of Ninth Street Book Shop in 2018.
Van den Broek, a Dutch professor of literature, came to Wilmington to visit her friend Eanes, an advertising professor at Temple University, and fell in love with the city.
“I would come visit him and we would go to the Ninth Street Book Shop, and then suddenly they closed down,” she said.
After Ninth Street’s closure, Van den Broek and Eanes talked with others in the state’s literary circle about how they could bring an independent shop back to Wilmington. The rising commercial rents in the Market Street corridor had dissuaded other entrepreneurs from attempting though.
It was a favorable deal from a supportive building owner that allowed Van den Broek to buy the 419 Market Street Mall property that includes the shop and a handful of upstairs apartments for $320,000 in 2019, according to county land records. It allowed Huxley & Hiro to avoid the concern over making rent payments.
While the partners began work on their shop before COVID struck, their progress was slowed a bit through the pandemic. It also changed their potential patronage a bit, as many of the city’s office workers are no longer in offices five days a week or have been pushed remote completely. Yet, the city has seen the addition of hundreds of new residential units, especially along Market Street, and a more vibrant social scene spurred by well-regarded restaurants coming out of the pandemic.
“We do hope that more offices will go back to being in person but there’s a lot of residential being built around here too,” van de Broek said. “We figured a lot of those residents would love some kind of store that has books, but also gifts and a place to sit and congregate.”
Taking a page from British mega bookseller Waterstones, which underwent a dramatic turnaround a decade ago by giving greater display control to each store manager rather than pushing priorities from publishers, van de Broek said Huxley & Hiro will feature topics and series that appeal to the local audiences and communities.
“There is a lot of value in having a local person to curate a collection and the curation is central to our mission here,” she said.
One of the fastest burgeoning trends in bookselling is that younger Gen Z buyers are seeking out hardback and paperback books after growing weary of staring at screens all day, van de Broek said, noting that she and Eanes see it in their students. Huxley & Hiro will likely lean into that demographic with events and gathering geared toward them,
“I have a stepdaughter who is 21 who tells me, ‘I don’t even know where to meet people other than maybe a bar or something. Where do I make new friends?’ Especially now that they are not in a workplace environment like an office,” she added.
Van den Broek said her shop learned from the example of Ninth Street Book Shop, which was well-known and active in its local community, and they planned to be involved with advocacy and nonprofits as a B Corp.
“[Ninth Street] knew their community and I think what’s really critical to running a bookstore well is understanding your community and understanding what they’re looking for and who they are,” she said.
At a ribbon cutting for the new store, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki thanked the small business owners for taking a risk and investing in the city’s future. He also noted the importance of reading and literature at a time when misinformation is so rampant.
“There’s something about a bookstore that flies in the face of the idiocy that’s taking place in so many parts of the country these days,” Purzycki said. “A bookstore symbolizes the stretching and enlarging of the American mind and not the constriction of it as occurs.”
Huxley & Hiro, named after the owners’ pets, is regularly open five days a week, including Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
It is stocking a wide range of books, from general interest to fiction and non-fiction, young adult, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, art and design, children’s literature, and rotating curated displays, currently featuring a Halloween collection and a section dedicated to issues of social justice. They will also host author events in coming months and participate in the city’s Art Loop by hosting the works of local artists, including fellow LoMa shop La Fate Gallery.