In 1966, Ralph Titcomb, an engineer with General Electric, was transferred to Connecticut. He and his wife, Nancy discovered that finding a house for their 6 young children was difficult, but they settled on an old house with 7 acres and several barns in the small town of Canterbury. The house had not been lived in for over 10 years and the prior owners were a mother and daughter who died at ages 102 and 82 respectively. As the couple worked on the house, the children explored the property, and soon discovered in one of the barns a large pile of rare papers and books dating back to the 1600s. The Titcomb’s started a mail order catalog to sell some of the books and their business, aptly named ‘The Paper Barn,” blossomed from there. The very first sale yielded $44 that was quickly used to buy a Saint Bernard puppy for the kids. (They did, after all, find the treasure!).
When Ralph was transferred again in 1969, the family, now with 8 children, moved to East Sandwich. They saw immediate appeal in the 1690, three-quarter Cape style home at 432 Route 6A. The house had a one-story enclosed breezeway and office that had served as an antique store in its past. The Paper Barn would now have a retail store. The family moved in on July 16, 1969, the day the first manned moon landing by Apollo 11 was launched. In addition to caring for their 8 children, aged 9 months to 14 years, and Ralph Titcomb’s full time job as an engineer, the couple opened the used and rare bookstore store a few weeks later. Anyone and everyone in the family was drafted to help keep the bookstore open, from the children to Nancy Titcomb’s mother, Edna Ericksen, who manned the cash register well into her 90’s.
The business evolved over the next few years, changing its name to Titcomb’s Bookshop. In 1974, the well known wrought iron colonial man statue was put in place. The statue was crafted by Ted Titcomb, the Titcomb’s oldest son, as part of his college portfolio. Thirty-five years later, with a new coat of paint every other year, the statue has become a landmark for travelers along scenic Route 6A.
The current barn-style building that houses Titcomb’s Bookshop was built in 1987 by two of the Titcomb’s sons (Paul and Ted Titcomb). In 1991, the Titcomb’s eldest daughter Vicky joined the family business and began expanding the store’s inventory of new books.
The business that began with an abandoned barn has now grown to a thriving 3 story retail store selling new and old books, games, puzzles and cards. Steve Fisher at the New England Independent Booksellers Association said “For 40 years Titcomb’s Bookshop has embodied everything that is good and proud about independent bookselling dedicated to providing its customers with expertise, passion, individual service. Hats off to the next 40 years of local bookselling spirit!”
During its 40 years, Titcomb’s has enjoyed a warm relationship with customers and authors alike. Visiting authors are asked to pose for a picture with the trademark statue. Many customers stop to see the authors’ wall where the photos are displayed (now also on their website). “We are proud to be able to offer the community the chance to meet and listen to some truly wonderful authors” said Vicky Uminowicz. Geraldine Brooks, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Henry Winkler, Jeff Kinney and Andre Dubus III are some of the many authors who have visited. Philip Craig, the late author of Martha’s Vineyard mysteries, remarked “Titcomb's Bookshop...is a charming little shop with equally charming managers and customers. It's been my pleasure to sign books there several times…. Not only have I inscribed quite a few books, I've enjoyed excellent conversations with wonderful people who love to read. They are the most interesting people in the world, and Titcomb's draws them like bees to honey."
In 2007, the bookstore was selected by the International Booksellers Federation as one of 50 unique bookstores in the world and featured in their calendar.