With the slow death of the big-chain bookstores like Borders, there has been an increase in the popularity of local bookstores. Borders is officially extinct and Barnes & Noble recently announced they would close about 30 percent of their stores in the next 10 years. Some may blame it on the e-book phenomena or discount sellers like Chegg and Amazon, but I think it is something else. There are still a bunch of us out there that just can’t fight the feeling that comes with holding, smelling, and embracing a real page-filled book in a bookstore. Hard cover, soft cover, a little tattered and torn, it’s love. But what adds to the experience of holding a book is going to local independent bookstores that, like books, have irresistible character. The Boston area is home to many independent bookstores, and below, we’ve included seven awesome bookstores to check out.
Brookline Booksmith – 279 Harvard Street, Brookline, (617) 566-6660
Located in the heart of Coolidge Corner, Brookline Booksmith is a book-lover’s haven. The shop has a ground floor and a used book cellar. The first floor is stacked top to bottom with new books in a plethora of varieties, like fiction, non-fiction, fantasy and biographies. The used book cellar is a great for getting your favorite books at discounted prices. Opened in 1961 and originally called ‘Paperback Booksmith,’ their slogan was, “dedicated to the fine art of browsing.” Their slogan still rings true today, as this store truly is the perfect place to browse. Not only do they sell books, but also they have a crafty trinket area in the store. Filled with stationary, handcrafted jewelry and journals, it’s a great place to purchase thoughtful gifts. The staff is knowledgeable and can usually recommend good books to suit your mood, and they even have a book club. Brookline Booksmith has been a beacon of literary diversity for the people of Brookline and Boston with its wide range of titles, book signings, talks and poetry readings. The store is also not as overwhelming as the late Borders with the escalators and overpriced coffee. Brookline Booksmith has stood the test of time since the ’60s and will continue to charm its customers into the future.
New England Mobile Book Fair – 82 Needham Street, ?Newton Highlands,? 617-964-7440
Ladies and gentlemen, if you have not been to the New England Mobile Book Fair (NEMBF), drop everything you’re doing and go now. Their slogan, “I only came for one book,” should follow with the statement, “and I left with 30” because the amount of books they house is tremendous, and you will want to buy everything. You may want to bring a compass so you don’t get lost in what is the largest independent bookstore in New England. The store is rumored to be equivalent of the size of three football fields, and that is perusing paradise. Located in Newton Highlands, it can be accessed by the T or easily by car . The NEMBF doesn’t feel as processed or sterile as Barnes and Noble; it has a more homey feel to it. It is run by real people and was recently bought by Tom Lyons, a Boston University alum. To read more about his story click here. The NEMBF is a great place to spend the day browsing, and with their wide selection you will most likely find what you need, but if you don’t, they can order your book, and it will arrive within 3-7 business days. On their website, you can also check out their 1,000,000 inventory of books.
Harvard Book Store – 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-661-1515
This gem in Harvard Square has been around since 1932. Started by Mark S. Kramer, he originally opened the store selling used and bargain general interest books. It has since grown and been passed down to the newest owner, Jeff Mayersohn. The Harvard Book Store is a huge advocate for the Cambridge and Harvard community; it is active in the New England Independent Booksellers Association. They have a wide variety of used, new and bargain books for sale. They also offer many free author events as well as have an interactive calendar online. In 2009 they introduced a Green Delivery service in partnership with the Metro Pedal Power service that delivers books by bicycle to the greater Boston area. Another neat service the Harvard Book Store offers is a print-on-demand machine that can print million of public domain or print-on-demand books right in the store. The store is intimate and there are perfect nooks for settling down with a great book. The store truly embodies what one would want in an independent bookstore, especially with the prestigious academic surroundings and coffee shops.
Commonwealth Books – Old South- 2 Milk Street, Boston, 617- 292-0065
This independent bookstore is located along the brick-covered streets of Downtown Crossing; in fact, it is on the oldest street in Boston built in 1630. According to their website, they offer 40,000 books from medieval manuscripts to the more recently published. They specialize in art monographs, decorative arts, poetry, history and literature. If you’re an avid book collector, their antiquarian selection as well as old prints and engravings from the 1600’s to the 1940’s will surely float your boat. Before you roll your eyes, Commonwealth Books has a disclaimer about their aged books, “We strive to maintain an interesting and affordable collection of hard-to-find books and prints for both the scholar and the collector.”
Downtown Crossing is also another great place to walk around. Getting lost down historical Winter, Summer, and Milk streets that were destroyed by the Great Boston Fire of 1872. You can also check out the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, which sits in front of what used to be Borders, the bones of what the chain bookstore world used to offer.
Trident Bookseller’s and Café – 338 Newbury Street, Boston, (617) 267-8688
Located on the historic and easily accessible Newbury St., Trident Bookseller’s Café has been known to attract the hipster population. But whether you are a hipster or not, you can definitely appreciate Trident’s delicious breakfast spread. They offer a huge variety from French toast to a build your own omelet option and even a selection of New England craft beers. Trident has new and discounted books and an award-winning magazine selection.
Every Friday night at 8 p.m. Trident offers trivia. According to Trident’s website, “you can pit your wits against other mental gladiators in a glorious display of cerebral prowess, intellectual fortitude, and accumulation of useless knowledge. Win prizes… and pride.” So if you want to give your brain exercise, take yourself and a group of friends down to Trident for trivia. According to the Trident website, the café is a great place to host a book group, and there is free WiFi. While you’re down on Newbury St. you should also take advantage of the eight-blocks of prime shopping.
Barbara’s Bookstore – 720 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, 617-433-0060
Are you on your way to the commuter rail or the bus at South Station? Make sure you have something good to read. Conveniently if you don’t have a book, Barbara’s Bestsellers is located in the heart of South Station. Barbara’s Bestsellers is a branch of Barbara’s Bookstore, which is a small independent chain that was launched in 1963 originally in Chicago. The store has two types of stores, Barbara’s Bookstore, a larger neighborhood store and the smaller stores in high-traffic locations called Barbara’s Bestsellers. Barbara’s Bookstores are only located in Illinois, so if you ever find yourself out that way make sure you check one out. South Station houses Barbara’s Bestsellers and that is exactly what they offer– bestsellers. They sell a range of books from fiction, non-fiction, children’s, mystery and more. Even though it is small, if you have a popular book in mind, they will definitely have it. On Barbarasbookstore.com you will find a list of weekly Boston’s Bestsellers tailored to what Bostonians read the most.
Brattle Book Shop – 9 West Street, Boston, 617-542-0210
Although I’ve never been to the Brattle Book Shop, the sale lot is something that definitely caught my eye as I walked by the other day, as well as the giant pencil that sits across their door front. An outside lot with racks stuffed with books for sale, I can imagine this becomes very crowded during the warmers months. Brattle is one of the oldest and largest used bookshops, established in 1851. It features an outside sale lot, two floors of used books and a third floor of rare and antique books. The first floor is filled with aisles of books labeled by subject and is the first place to look for new books at Brattle. They have a stock of 250,000 books, maps, prints, and postcards, but Brattle buys hundreds, even thousands, of books a day so their stock is always changing. Their rare book room is like the adult video section in a movie store (another extinct retailer), it is in the back on the third floor. It has first editions, collectibles, and fine leather bindings. Brattle also buys books; if you have any antiquarian, rare, maps and leather bound books, you can call ahead for inspection, and if they want what you have, you will either receive store credit or cash. You can even check out the store before you visit by going on their online tour.
The independent bookstores listed are also located in great historical and bustling part of Boston. While you’re out and about in search of the perfect book take a moment to enjoy the beautiful Boston surroundings. Going to the big-chain bookstores or ordering cheap books online from Amazon is convenient, but there is a lack of face-time that is an important part of the independent bookstore experience. Support your local bookstore; make relationships with authors, owners and other shopper. Local businesses need our patronage to survive.