Hanover Talks with David Cioffi
For nearly 30 years, David Cioffi was the public face of the Dartmouth Bookstore. With a background in corporate sales and management, Cioffi moved to Etna in 1972 and became the bookstore’s general manager soon after. When he and his wife, Ann, sold the business in 2004 to Barnes & Noble, the Dartmouth Bookstore was the oldest bookstore in America to be continuously operated by the same family.
But for Cioffi, retirement doesn’t mean complacency. A former chairman of the Hanover Republican Committee, he remains active in various civic and volunteer capacities. He’s a member of the Hanover Improvement Society and volunteers at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction and with the Development Office of Dartmouth-Hitchcock—where he is also on the Board of Overseers. And at home with Ann on 48 acres in Etna, there’s plenty of work to be done raising the hens, clearing and logging, and expanding his prized sugar bush operation.
What do you remember about your first day of retirement? Was the transition to retirement difficult?
On the first day of retirement (June 5, 2004) I remember getting up and thinking I no longer had to worry 24 hours a day, seven days a week about the success of the Dartmouth Bookstore. I wasn’t tied down to running a business but rather could now do each day what I wanted to do. Having worked all my life (caddied at Rutland Country Club when I was around eight years old), I was ready to relax and find new pursuits. The transition was easy. We own 48 acres in Etna and I knew that would keep us busy. I have expanded my sugar bush operation, raise hens, cut firewood for sugaring and home, have had the land logged with help of a professional forester to upgrade the quality of the timber and sugar bush, and recently converted three acres of forest to a beautiful green field. I am a member of the Hanover Improvement Society, which operates Nugget Theatre, Storrs Pond, and Campion Rink. I do volunteer work at the VA Hospital in White River, am on the Board of Overseers at DHMC and do volunteer work with their Development Office, and serve on the State of New Hampshire Workforce Investment Board within the Department of Resources & Economic Development (DRED).
For many Upper Valley residents, your name was synonymous with the Dartmouth Bookstore. What are your impressions of the business since you left? What aspects have improved and what’s been lost?
My impression of the business is that it continues to be successful. The book industry has changed radically in the last 10 years and the current owners (Barnes & Noble, who also run the Harvard and Yale bookstores) have done a good job weathering the faltering economy and storm of industry changes (Internet, books online, textbook modifications, video games replacing time once used for reading, etc.). Key members of our staff are still there and they are very content as employees of Barnes & Noble and the store is managed by one of them (Bernadette Farrell), so customers still see many of the same faces. The addition of the café is a plus (we had plans to do that). What has been lost is the scope of inventory—we carried many more titles, a deeper inventory. But I am sure turnover is a key factor in the Barnes & Noble business plan, so it’s not worth it to them to carry books you only sell twice in one year. My biggest regret besides missing the camaraderie of fellow employees and customers is that they closed the branch store out at DHMC. My father-in-law Jack Stebbins had spent many years on their Board of Directors when it was in Hanover, so our family has always been closely attached to DHMC. If we had known Barnes & Noble would close that store so soon, we probably would not have sold that branch.
What is the secret to a happy marriage during retirement?
The secret to a happy marriage during retirement is to stay busy. Both my wife Ann and I enjoy life in the country. Ann has a great vegetable garden, expands the flowers around the yard and has planted all sorts of berries, does volunteer work with the Etna Ladies Aid, and coordinates Green-Up Day in Hanover. We also have the same interests—bicycling, kayaking, golf, and skiing, both cross-country and downhill, and we do lots of that. We try to visit our grandchildren in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as often as possible, often driving down there. We can do all these things while we are healthy and we don’t have to sit around and stare at each other all day wondering what to do!
How has the political landscape of the Upper Valley changed over time and how would you characterize the current Republican Party presence in the region?
When I first came to the Upper Valley, Republicans outnumbered Democrats and Independents. But the political landscape shifted over time and Democrats slowly but surely took over the Hanover Republican seats in the House and have not relinquished them. Though both Democrats and Independents vastly outnumber the Republicans in the Upper Valley, there is a stronger presence than meets the eye. Having been chairman of the Hanover Republican Committee for many years (there is another chair now), I have come to know many bright and active Republicans in the towns around. This base has been energized since the last election and the current state of the economy. They will never fold up their tents and raise the white flag because they believe firmly in their goals to keep America the best country in the world to live and die in. Perhaps in the near future more Independents will see the light and join ranks with the Upper Valley Republicans and there will be another shift in power as occurred in the ’70s and ’80s.
How do you deal with criticism and differing points of view that you encounter in Hanover?
Hanover is an educated community, thus there are many experts and would-be experts on all issues. I learned that when I was a selectman in the 1980s and also while serving on various town boards over time like Parking & Transportation and Finance committees. If you take time to listen, you can be better educated on the controversial issues. I have been in the middle of fighting for landowner rights over the years regarding the relocation of the Appalachian Trail, Hanover’s Greenways controversy, and zoning issues. Most recently I was involved in reining in what some of us perceive as runaway school budgets in Hanover. What I have learned is that, if you don’t speak up, you will get trampled by the herd mentality that sometimes occurs on certain issues like conservation and schools. You do have to dig your heels in and argue your side of an issue because there are many folks out there who sometimes only see one side.
What changes to the Hanover and Upper Valley community landscape since you arrived have struck you as most profound?
Two significant changes in Hanover stick in my mind. First was the decision to move the Medical Center out of downtown Hanover to Lebanon. That was a necessary and wise move for both the Medical Center and the town. Now the Medical Center is a major force in transforming all aspects of medicine, has room for more growth, and those of us who reside in the Upper Valley have a world-class medical staff and facilities to cater to our health needs. Meanwhile, downtown Hanover is not overrun with traffic that would have resulted if the move had not happened. Yes, it hurt walk-in business on Main Street for a while, but businesses all seem to have recovered.
The second event has been Dartmouth College’s acquisition and renovation of downtown properties, particularly in the business district. There were many dilapidated properties that now house exciting and successful businesses particularly along South Street above Howe Library. It’s fun to wander about checking out all the shops and restaurants.
How do you endure the long winter months in Northern New England?
We actually enjoy winter. More than anything we go cross-country skiing. We also go to movies at the Nugget and events at Northern Stage and Lebanon Opera House. And we spend time in front of our cozy woodstove reading and listening to music. For me sugaring season starts in mid-February when I begin to move snow so I can get the maples tapped before the sap runs. Then I am a slave to sap runs, spending most of my spare time in the sugar bush collecting sap and in the barn where I boil the sap.
If you didn’t live in Hanover, where would you like to live?
If I didn’t live in Hanover, perhaps we would consider living in Italy. We often take bicycle trips there and my wife Ann has become quite fluent in Italian. The food is great and there is so much history and culture.
What’s next for David Cioffi at home and in the public sphere?
I have no plans to run for any local or state elective office. I am very content with what I do now. Short-term assignments I don’t mind, like participating in the recent fund drive to raise money for purchasing the land under and around our fine Etna Library. Projects like that have an ending! I am now planting more fruit trees in our new field and keeping it mowed keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. I will continue to work on our woodlot to expand the sugar operation and improve the quality of timber. Life is dandy and I am thankful for it and appreciate being a part of the scene in our Upper Valley. We do live in a unique and beautiful corner of the world and we all should work together to keep it that way.
When the grandchildren visit Hanover, how do you entertain them and yourselves?
When the grandchildren visit we do what we did with our children. If it is summer we hike, go to Lake Morey where we share a cottage with Ann’s brother and family, and take day trips to places like the Montshire Museum, Hood Museum, and VINS. If it is winter, we go tubing at the golf course, skiing at the Dartmouth Skiway, or cross-country skiing on our backyard trails and elsewhere. We are blessed in our Upper Valley with a myriad of outdoor and cultural entertainment choices.