Suzanna Hermans

Veteran bookseller, co-owner of the beloved Oblong Books & Music stores and passionate literary enthusiast, Suzanna is a brilliant business owner - landing Oblong squarely on the books and broader community map.

Suzanna pictured left with author Susan Orlean

Tell us about your business or specialty.

I’m co-owner of Oblong Books & Music - we have independent bookstores in Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY. We are a full-service, general bookstore with a strong specialty in children’s and young adult books. Our stores carry around 30,000 titles and we do about 100 author events a year, both in our stores and out in the community. 

How'd you get to where you are now?

I’m extremely fortunate to have grown up in the bookstore - my dad co-founded our store in 1975. I would literally come to the bookstore every day after preschool and was given free reign to roam the floor. As soon as I was tall enough to see over the counter, I was ringing up customers. My dad never pressured me to go into the family business (a great tactic!), and I went off to college to become an actor. When I realized that wasn’t the right path for me I came back home and settled into the bookstore. I haven’t looked back - this is absolutely the right career for me and I am so happy to get to do this wonderful job every day.  What surprises you in your work? Every day is a surprise. As a small business owner you are always on call to handle both the big things (a computer hard drive failure) and the small things (a clogged toilet). We are a retail business and have all the excitement that comes with it, but we’re also in the business of selling books: an extremely special and unique product. This combination of business know-how and literary dexterity keeps things very interesting for me. 

What drives you crazy?

It frustrates me that the “bookstores are closing” narrative of the 1990s is still in a lot of peoples’ minds. That is simply no longer the case - many stores survived the advent of chain stores, Amazon, and ebooks. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of independent bookstores grew by 35 percent, with more new stores opening every year. There is amazing work being done by my colleagues across the country, and I am so proud of all of us.  Who inspires you? (it can be anybody you know, or don't know) My staff! We are privileged to employ about 20 incredible booksellers. I am forever grateful for their hard work, passion, and dedication to books and to each other. 

You're a trailblazer - what are some highlights?

I was lucky enough to serve as President of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, our industry’s regional trade association, a few years back. And in 2017 I achieved what could very well be the highlight of my career: serving as a judge for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Any lessons you’ve learned and would like to share?

Being an employer is the hardest part of my job. Never write an difficult email to an employee when you could have that conversation in person. If you don’t want to have that conversation in person, that probably means it definitely shouldn’t be an email. When you can, sleep on it - you’ll be better prepared to deal with things when your emotions aren’t running high. 

Words of wisdom or thoughts?

I feel like it took me 10 years to figure out how to be a boss, and I’m still learning every single day. But that’s what keeps things interesting, right? 


Suzanna Hermans is a second generation bookseller and co-owner of Oblong Books and Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, New York. She is a past president of the New England Independent Booksellers Association and recently served on the Advisory Council of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. She has also served on the American Booksellers Association's Advisory Council, as well as their Children's Advisory Council and New Voices Committee. In 2017 she was a judge for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. She is a 2020 Hudson Valley Magazine Top Women in Business honoree.

(published 2019)