The Children’s Bookstore in Hamilton-Lauraville will close its doors after 43 years in business. The shop is one of the longest continuously-operating children’s bookstores in America. Photo by Ed Gunts.

After 43 years in business, including 32 in Roland Park and nearly three in Hamilton-Lauraville, The Children’s Bookstore is closing its doors.

Owner Melissa Doty has set July 25 as the final day of operation for the independent bookstore at 4717 Harford Road, part of the SoHa Row commercial district.

It will be the final chapter for one of the oldest continuously-operating children’s bookstores in America. It was also one of the original tenants of James Rouse’s Harborplace development, back when the twin pavilions featured local merchants rather than chain stores.

Melissa Doty, owner of The Children’s Bookstore in Hamilton-Lauraville, announced that she will be closing the store after 43 years in business, citing health issues. The final day of operation will be July 25. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Doty, who bought the store three years ago from founder JoAnn Fruchtman, said she is closing because of health problems, not lack of business.

“It is with a mixture of pride and sadness that we are announcing the closure of The Children’s Bookstore,” states a sign on the door. “We realize this is sudden, however, due to unforeseen medical issues, the bookstore will be shutting down on July 25th, 2021.

“It has been a wonderful 43 years! We want to thank all of the customers, friends and children we’ve had the honor and privilege to serve.

“The Children’s Bookstore is extremely thankful to have moved its location to Lauraville, the neighborhood where all employees currently call home. Thank you so much for your support!”

A note on the door of The Children’s Bookstore in Hamilton-Lauraville Announces the business’s closure. Photo by Ed Gunts.
A note on the door of The Children’s Bookstore in Hamilton-Lauraville Announces the business’s closure. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Doty said she is scheduled to have an operation later this month and no one on the staff was in a position to take over and keep it going in her absence.

“Honestly, forty-three years …is a very good run for an independent bookstore,” she said. “I’ve been doing this since the mid-1990s and a lot of the independents from when I started are gone. A lot of big chains are gone.”

The Children’s Bookstore has a 50 percent-off sale underway on many books. Over the weekend, customers came in and thanked Doty for all she’s done and said how much they’ll miss her and the store. Facebook, too, is full of comments praising the store and wishing Doty well.

“A bright spot” for Hamilton and Lauraville, one customer called it. “So helpful when I ordered books for the holidays,” another patron said. “A wonderful collection of diverse and inclusive books.” “We’ve been so fortunate to have such a wonderful store in town for so long.”

The Harford Road address — technically part of Moravia-Walther but close to Hamilton, Lauraville and Arcadia — was the fourth location for The Children’s Bookstore. It started in 1979 in a renovated rowhouse on Patapsco Street in South Baltimore, an early construction project of Bill and Fred Struever and Cobbles Eccles, before Ted Rouse joined them and they became Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse.

In 1980, Fruchtman opened a shop in the Pratt Street pavilion of Harborplace, at Pratt and Light streets. She was one of the original tenants and one of three booksellers there (even before Baltimore adopted the slogan, “The City That Reads.”)

In 1986, seeking to move to a neighborhood where she could build a following of repeat local customers rather than Inner Harbor tourists, she leased the storefront at 737 Deepdene Road, across from the Roland Park post office. Struever’s then-wife, architect Barbara Wilks, led the design team for the interior, creating a whimsical, kid-scaled setting perfect for reading and story-telling.

The Children’s Bookstore is having a 50 percent-off sale leading up to its last day of business on July 25. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Famous children’s book authors such as Maurice Sendak, Madeleine L’Engle and J. K. Rowling stopped by. The store participated in the Baltimore Book Festival and promoted authors and illustrators with a Baltimore connection, including Twig George, Laura Amy Schlitz, Patrick O’Brien, Elizabeth Dahl, Trevor Price, James Proimos and Kevin O’Malley.

In 2017, The Huffington Post ranked The Children’s Bookstore number 14 on its list of the 50 Best Indie Bookstores in America. At each location, the owners displayed a green dragon that hung in the original store.

Doty, who worked with Fruchtman for about 15 years before buying the store, said she transferred ownership of the business and contents to Samuel Polakoff, the developer behind SoHa Row and landlord of the building the store is in. Polakoff declined to comment.

Doty said some people contacted her about buying the store, but she didn’t feel comfortable. “I don’t want to hand the bookstore over to someone I don’t know.”

She said the business has developed a reputation for selling high-quality children’s books and she trusts Polakoff to respect that, whatever he does. “I want to honor JoAnn’s legacy,” she said. “I trust Sam. I know he’ll do the right thing.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.