Located in the middle of the humdrum of coffee shops and chain stores in Coolidge Corner, the Brookline Booksmith offers visitors a small world of books that contain enough stories, knick-knacks, and wisdom to get lost in for hours.
This little haven on Harvard St. was founded in 1961 by Marshall Smith, who remains the store’s majority owner today. At the time of its opening, the bookstore was considered a novelty for mainly selling paperback books, especially in a period when hardcover books were much more prevalent.
“Marshall did open other locations and at one time, there were many Booksmiths throughout New England,” four-year Assistant Manager Peter Win said. “But this store always remained the ‘headquarters,’ and for many years now it has been the only one.”
On its first level, the store carries a wide but carefully chosen selection of books divided by section and genre, including a space for new, recommended books. Small, colorful notes posted next to specific books allow patrons to browse through hundreds of titles recommended by employees.
“We want to have the books and gifts people are already looking for, as well as the ones they may not know about,” Win said in regards to the merchandise selection process. “Knowing what your customers like and want and being able to communicate with them on a personal level about those things is a key characteristic of a good independent bookstore, and in fact of any small business.”
Amidst the regular selection of books is the Globe Corner, which sells a variety of titles and maps for those looking to travel. The Globe Corner is also filled with personal, little notes recommending places to visit in select cities. At the back of the first floor is the kids’ section, an area that serves as a hideout for children to read, explore, and play. Another popular feature of the main floor is the newly installed gift shop, which sells a range of items from Boston knick-knacks and scented candles to gift cards, jewelry, and socks with sassy quotes on them.
“The books and other items we carry are determined by our buyers,” Win said. “All of these people work to make sure we have the best selection possible for our customers.”
One of the Brookline Booksmith’s most notable features is its “Used Book Cellar.” The cellar offers a secluded space with a variety of used books.
“Over the years the business has always tried to adapt to changes in culture and society,” Win said. “But I think it has always tried to remain, first and foremost, a community bookstore.”
The bookstore also hosts many free events such as author readings, monthly book groups, and story times in the kids’ section. For example, this month authors Steve Himmer and Robert Repino will visit the Booksmith in order to read from their new novels.
“Though we are definitely a community business, we also cater to and are known by people from outside of Brookline, and sometimes much further away,” Win said about the local hotspot. “We are a longtime fixture in a great community and are lucky to have very supportive customers.”
As a small bookstore in an increasingly digital age, the Booksmith has experienced some challenges over the last decade. Win explained how the shift to digital resources has impacted the way consumers read and acquire books. He also mentioned the threats these new methods pose to small bookstores.
“Amazon, larger chain bookstores, and other large retail chains have impacted us over the years, just as they have other independent bookstores and smaller businesses throughout the country,” Win said. “Electronic book sales have also posed a challenge to small and large bookstores alike. In our modern society, where time is scant and everything can be ordered online and downloaded electronically, people hardly ever take the time to walk into a bookstore and that’s a shame.”
According to Win, the store has kept its historic charm, and he believes patrons regularly visit in order to enjoy the pleasure of a traditional bookstore. Looking to the future, the Brookline Booksmith hopes to continue to grow, despite the emerging presence of electronic books.
“While some independent bookstores have continued to survive and even thrive in recent years, I am sure they have done so thanks to endless hours of hard work put in by dedicated staff, and once again, the support of their communities,” Win said.
Featured Images by Rebecca Moretti / Heights Staff