At the end of this month we’ll be moving our bookshop from one Boston neighborhood to another. This decision, as you might guess, was not reached without a certain measure of hand wringing, apocalyptic visions, second guessing, and angry cries to the heavens, even if we don’t have even a 1/4 acre of books. We’ve been in our present location since we opened 5 1/2 years ago, foot traffic never developed how we’d have like, our landlord was raising our rent, and our hunt for a slightly better location in our own neighborhood, or something to purchase, never materialized, so we decided to pull the trigger. This turned out to be the easy part, in retrospect, because now we have to figure out how to move 25,000 books, shelves, and the varied detritus that has, apparently, been collecting in our basement for five years – all while revamping a store that looks like this
and hasn’t been improved since 1972. We also have to do it pretty quick because while paying two leases is pretty fun, our banker isn’t quite as enamored of it as we are. We’ve found, just as we found when we rented this space, that tenants do strange things in their spaces. Nail huge sections of ugly plywood over perfectly fine walls (well, they were fine, until they put a thousand thousand nail holes in it), use scrap lumber as molding, or, the current favorite, glue their carpet to the floor using what I can only assume was adhesive developed for the Apollo 11 mission.
They even painted the air vents pink which was thoughtful.
So we labor at plastering and rug removal, sheet rocking and painting (colors have been a chore to agree on – I won’t ruin the surprise as to what we chose for a scheme, but some have suggested we’d have been better off with the pink) – but mostly we labor at figuring out how to fit books that have been spread over 2000+ sq ft of store and basement into 1400 sq ft of store and basement and what sections should come with us and which should be ditched. This part is hard – Boston neighborhoods, even ones whose commercial districts are only a mile apart, can be radically different from one another, so those sections that languished here might be strong over there – and vice versa. It’s a quandary, but it is fun to finally have a reason to pitch some of those under performing sections – see ya Biographies, so long Self-Help, arrivederci Economics. We’ve started compressing sections as well – anthropology was a dog, so were lit crit, psychology and politics, so we’ve freed the smart people from those sections and added them to Philosophy which will have to be renamed Philosophy and Other Smart Stuff as a result. So Levi-Strauss is saved along with Foucault, Barthes, Klein, Jung, Freud, Kristeva, Bakthin, Frye, etc. and the rest are forced to find a home elsewhere or they’re gone, and there is little time to spare on sympathy and thanks for their previous contributions. The borderline cases are the toughest – what of Margaret Mead (saved, barely) or Harold Bloom (saved in part but with heavy misgivings), Skinner (see ya) or Erik Erikson (on the bubble with Laing and Fromm – what to do with these jokers?).
It’s a struggle. So is finding the cash to do the renovations while paying two rents – we threw a big party with auctions, food from my eating everything mentioned in The Canterbury Tales project (which sounds dorkier than it is. Maybe.), skee-ball tournaments (the skee-ball machine in our basement is another moving casualty. Is it a sign of the times that people are more upset about this than the books?), a keg of beer and a band. One of the great moments in the history of capitalism occurred at the party: We’d set up the Chaucerian meat and apple pies and tarts upstairs and we were going to have a little hot dog bar downstairs, but one of our friend’s kids decided it would be smarter to sell hot dogs than just give them away so he started moving dogs in the basement. About 15 minutes after we’d unwrapped the pies, he comes storming upstairs apoplectic and demanding to know who was behind the free meat pies and how was he supposed to run a profitable hot dog business when people were dumping meat pies on the market, gratis? He was genuinely upset – it was great.
Since we announced the move, we’ve been encouraged that a large percentage of our customers will actually be closer to the new location, but a number of customers are heart broken and this is difficult – heart warming to know that we were loved by a few, but it still feels like we’re betraying them. This is difficult – there’s already probably too much emotion in a business like this – one that’s run for the love of it before the money of it, so we try to put this aside and keep in mind that we might be bad capitalists, even broken capitalists, but we’re not failed capitalists, dammit.
I’ll post again before the move and you can all decide if our color scheme is an inspired stroke of genius or further evidence of derangement.
4268 Washington St.
Roslindale, MA 02131
7 thoughts on “What Gets Left Behind – Moving a Bookstore for Fun and Profit”
My space had what I referred to as the “doorway to hell”. It’s a bookstore in New England in a creaky old building across from a masonic table. Finding a boarded over doorway with the doorknob removed and nailed into the frame sounds like a set up for a horror movie right there.
Anyway, to the moving. Whatever section it is you eliminate, you will magically now got a bunch of requests for it, despite nobody having bought anything from it in years. When I finally took Sports out I kept getting requests for it! ARG! Not that requests in any way translate to sales.
Very Lovecraftian – just watch out for the tentacles coming from under the door.
I painted the doorway BLOOD RED after we opened it. This seems to have appeased the tentacled horrors.
I still have a boarded over fireplace in this place though. That’s just downright odd.
I wish you luck with the move and new business. I hope that your bookstore will prosper and you continue doing what you love.
…you can all decide if our color scheme is an inspired stroke of genius or further evidence of derangement.
With lines like this i can tell why you have a devoted customer base. Humor sells. Even if it’s slightly twisted…
Thanks! Work is progressing (at least that’s how I choose to look at the shambles that the old store is currently in) and the new space is just about done. It’s so fresh and new and empty, it’s almost a shame to put anything in it.
Tom, That space looks a lot like ours space quite a bit. Can’t wait to see the finished product. One thing we did in our commercial space was to keep the neons off and fill the tops of bookcases with antique lamps.
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