Being a top criminal defense lawyer isn’t enough for Norm Pattis—so he bought a bookstore and a farm
Published in 2007 New England Super Lawyers magazine
on October 23, 2007
Updated on January 25, 2017
It’s an unlikely place for a bookstore. Past a hand-painted “Hay 4 Sale” sign and next to a small pasture of grazing horses, it’s not exactly the high-traffic zone of Bethany. But it’s easy to see why Norm Pattis fell in love with it.
“It was like an old dream suddenly come true,” he says of the musty, quirky store he rescued from the clutches of developers in a 2004 estate sale. “I wasn’t out looking for a shop, but there it was.”
Much like its owner, Whitlock Farm Booksellers is offbeat. It’s full of charm and eccentricities; duck your head when you walk in the main door—the building was once a turkey barn.
Today, the bookstore maintains a small yet steady stream of customers but isn’t quite self-sustaining.
“While it’s a pleasure to keep it afloat, I’d prefer not to have to do so,” he says. “But I did go into it with eyes wide open. It’s used books.”
A self-described book addict, Pattis rattles off a list of authors he enjoys—J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro and local writer Katharine Weber. His zeal is evident as he walks over to his dusty station wagon and lovingly pulls out one volume of a set he’s just purchased to add to his personal collection: an elephant folio by David Hume published 200 years ago.
“It’s got very good-quality, highbond paper. It’s large type. It has beautiful copper engraved plates,” he says. “Had I not gotten involved in the book trade, I would never have come to appreciate a book like this as a thing not just of information, but as a thing of physical beauty … and the connection to the past is awfully cool.”
A prominent criminal defense attorney, Pattis is a rescuer by nature.
“What gets me hot is little people involved in big fights,” he says. “The more unpopular the person, the more passionate I am to defend him.”
The fear he sees in many of his clients is something that resonates deeply with Pattis. He explains that he grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks” with a single mother, and not much in terms of prospects. He was handed a childhood that left him hungry to succeed.
“Am I successful?” He shrugs. “I own a bookstore. I live on a nice farm. My kids have all gone to good schools. I know how to make a dollar. But am I satisfied? No. I’m never content.
“My sense is each day is a gift, and you better find some gift you enjoy and open it with relish because it might be the last day you get. Mine is going into court tomorrow morning and raising some holy hell.”