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Keeping Bookstores Alive

Bookish Bostonian

Asst. Metro Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 23:02

In the winter of 2009, I lost one of my best friends.

I was a freshman in high school, and Book World, a small bookstore located in the town next to mine, had just announced that it was closing down.

I went through the typical denial, spending several weeks standing outside the bookstore windows, alone, knocking on the glass door and waiting for someone to answer. But once I had finally accepted that Book World was gone for good, I spent a few rage-filled evenings dry heaving into the toilet.

I know what you are thinking. That didn’t happen. And you’re right.

I actually just cried for a few days.

Well, that actually did not happen either, but let’s just say I was pretty upset about it.

Especially throughout the summer of 2008, I took a trip to Book World whenever I was about to finish the current book I was reading. The staff there soon became used to me, and would sometimes even set aside the book for which they thought I would be looking. Granted, I was a 14-year-old nerd still consistently interested in science fiction series and wasn’t exactly the hardest customer to predict, but still.

My family was also upset about the loss of the bookstore, but some people were sure to remind me that it was “just a bookstore.” Just a bookstore?

Let me tell you something. Book World had been a little home, filled with the character of a 44-year history and a dedicated, local staff. I am not denying the utility of a big name bookstore. I, too, had little choice but to accept going to my local Barnes & Noble once Book World went out of business. But there is something to be said for the independent bookstore, even during an age in which almost any text is available digitally on a Nook.

I know that I am not always the most faithful—after naysaying Nooks for years, I finally succumbed to use one at college—and I feel like I am cheating on real, printed books every time. If I feel bad about it, is it still cheating? Don’t answer that. It’s just that I can’t resist the way those Nooks have the backlight—so useful. (Forgive me, book gods, for I have sinned.)

But the truth of the matter is that every time a person shops at a big name bookstore or downloads a text on a Nook, a disservice is done to the excellent independent bookstores in the area.

Boston is filled with the kind of bookstores that keep nerds like me coming back.

Take, for instance, Commonwealth Books, located on Milk Street in Downtown Crossing. The bookstore’s website lays claim to the possession of over 40,000 titles, including medieval manuscripts. This store is dedicated to a wide antiquarian selection, as well as more recent publications.

Or Trident Bookseller’s and Cafe, which combines eating and reading on Boston’s Newbury Street.

Or Brattle Book Shop on Boston’s West Street, which includes an outdoor area for book shopping, alongside its three indoor floors of texts.

I have every intention of visiting some of these bookstores, and writing about them in the near future as some small tribute to the bookstore I lost in youth.

If you think that small bookstores have no impact, I ask you to remember a 14-year-old me, who could barely believe when his favorite bookstore was gone. When I turned 18, I overheard my older English teacher talking about how much she missed Book World, even years later, and that she had bought the employees there some gifts when she learned that the store would go out of business. We spent some time talking about our old favorite place.

And if a store can have the same impact on a retiring English teacher as it did on a young boy, I think it’s worth keeping around.

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