As a city girl, a reader, a writer, and a frequenter of libraries, I think of bookstores as places to find solace. Those who love books understand the charm inherent in bookstores. Let me paint this picture: golden streaming light, cushy couches, a cup of coffee, and the words of great literary figures. And quiet. Let’s not forget about the quiet.
Distressing may not be the right word, but I do feel a little something akin to a sigh by the news of bookstores closing around Boston. Independent bookstores such as Village Books on Roslindale Village, Globe Corner Bookstores at Harvard Square, and the iconic Curious George Books and Toys are going. But there are also the larger chain bookstores disappearing: say goodbye to Borders at Downtown Crossing. The stores’ closing means that as I stroll Boston’s streets, there will be less opportunity to sit down, less opportunity to dither, and less opportunity to discover a new book.
I remember once reading that “independent bookstores seem like an endangered species these days.” I admit that finding independent bookstores are difficult and with the advent of larger bookstores and online resources, they have become rare. Village Books, “a boutique book store specializing in fiction, art, design, cooking and children’s literature” and Roslindale Village’s only bookstore is closing. Owned by the Connelly sisters, Village Books ran for six years. People who frequented the store have praised it as “a sweet little bookstore” that has “an amazing selection.” Since the announcement of the store’s departure, former patrons have expressed their sympathies. But, like one of the Connelly sisters said, keeping the bookstore running is hard: “We can’t pay the bills anymore. This is a business, not a hobby.”
The same rings true for the Globe Corner Bookstore, which plans to close within the month of June. A specialized bookstore carrying travel books and maps, the Globe Corner “is the quintessential bookstore for any travel-minded fellows.” True to its spirit, the bookstore arranges books not by genre, but by region. A patron says of the store, “As a die-hard traveler, I really rely on the wide variety of merchandise.” The 29-year-old business was not just a haven for mental exploration, but one that turned exploration into a reality.
On the other spectrum, just up Kennedy Street, is Curious George Books and Toys. You can almost imagine Curious George waving goodbye like he does in his books. Curious George Books and Toys would have been one of those places I considered magical when I was a child. The place is a dream-come-true for younger audiences and even adults.
At Downtown Crossing, another bookstore may be closing. The news that Borders had filed for bankruptcy has circled the literary and general community for a while now, but it still comes as a bit of a shock that the Borders at Downtown Crossing was slated for closure. (Update: the liquidation scheduled for July 1 has been postponed, and there are reports that Borders is looking for a buyer for the entire company. Any takers?)
A bank turned bookstore, the store is a massive three-stories, 35,000 square feet. In the busy shopping district, it is constantly filled with people coming and going as much for coffee as for the books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines. Borders has character, though not perhaps the specialized charm of smaller bookstores, but a sort of character inherent in big bookstores: long, winding lines in the café during lunch hours, eyebrow-raising stories about the bathrooms, and the city’s share of homeless people loitering.
But as one reviewer wrote, “I appreciate the convenience of this Borders.” In the end, to many people, bookstores are exactly that: a place of convenience. It is convenient to sit and rest after a long day. While it is true that many of these bookstores carry books that can be ordered (probably for less) online, with the disappearance of brick-and-mortar stores, we lose access to immediacy, and hence to curiosity. Many of these bookstores are the last bookstores of their areas or cater to a niche. Brick-and-mortar stores encourage browsing; it’s hard to search online if you don’t know something exists. Whether the stores are independent or of a larger chain, bookstores are a part of the community. But bookstores are places where convenience is no longer affordable, where hobbies must be compromised. Below is a map of bookstores still open and running. An assignment for this summer: check out your local bookstores. Buy a book. Contribute. Read.
We have put together a map of bookstores in the greater Boston area, with the independent bookstores marked in yellow and the big stores (mostly Borders and Barnes & Noble) in blue. Click around to find bookstores in your neighborhood or town, and please be in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if we missed any stores within Route 495. For more information about independent bookstores and where to find them in your area, visit Indie Bound.
View Boston Bookstores in a larger map