Dolphin bookshop doing swimmingly for over 70 years

Robert Pelaez
Dolphin Bookshop & Café has been a part of the Port Washington business district for over 70 years. (Photo courtesy of the Island Now archives)

Established in 1946, the Dolphin Bookshop & Café in Port Washington has remained in business for over 70 years despite countless changes to the book-selling business. 

Judith Mitzner, who has owned the store for the past six years, said: “We want the people of Port Washington to know that we are here for them. We add a personal touch to our service that people will not find at a large-scale book store and certainly not Amazon.”

Mitzner, a resident of Sea Cliff, has worked at the store for almost a decade.  When she heard that there would be a change in ownership, she  made an offer to purchase the business.

“I loved, and of course still love, working there so much,” she explained. “The atmosphere is amazing, and I had a desire to do my part and keep this store in business and to carry on its longstanding tradition as a part of the community.”

The business was located next to the train station before moving to the 6,000-square-foot building it now inhabits on Main Street. 

The store is broken into three sections.  One section is for children, with age-appropriate books and toys to choose from. Another section is for adults, providing books, gifts and cards. The last section is a small café with drinks and treats.

“Those amenities are certainly pivotal in our longevity here,” Mitzner explained. “Now more than ever, people love cafés and places to be able to sit and read, even in this new era of technology. We like to include toys, gifts, and cards to include that broader audience of people. They can come in for one thing, and leave with a bag.”

While the Port Washington community has been the foundation of the clientele for the business, Mitzner said that the store sees many people from as far west as New York City.  She also discussed the impact that the word-of-mouth of those distant clients has on the bookstore.

“When people decide to make that transition from the city to the island, I like to think we are one of those businesses that they will hold onto, especially when starting a family,” Mitzner said. “It all starts with our clients telling other people about how great Port Washington’s downtown is. The shops and the people here set the standard for independent businesses.”

According to a 2018 report by the American Bookstore Association, overall book sales at independent bookstores in 2017 increased 2.6 percent from 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.4 percent over five years.  And while not every bookstore may see a positive trend like this, Dolphin bookshop is doing what is necessary to keep its business alive.

“I think there’s something charming about having a quaint bookstore in your town,” Mitzner said.  “The residents of Port Washington certainly seem to think so too, or else we wouldn’t still be around.”

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