Brookline Booksmith plans to expand after 55 years

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Jeremiah Levy

Brookline Booksmith is expanding into a next-door storefront after decades in Coolidge Corner. The space, which had been a Verizon, will house a Booksmith café.

For independent bookstores across the country, the last two decades have been a period of uncertainty. They have had to stand tall against virtual shopping, chain bookstores, and reading tablets. However, according to the American Booksellers Association, with national trends showing steady growth rates since 2016, independent booksellers are experiencing a fresh resurgence of sales and community involvement.
For Brookline’s own favorite bookstore, it’s no different. Brookline Booksmith is still going strong as Coolidge Corner’s hub for books and the people that love them. Now in the process of expanding to include a café, the store is advancing its nearly 55-year-long history of being a heartbeat for the town community.
According to Brookline Booksmith co-owner and co-manager Peter Win, the expansion is happening thanks to a wave of fortunate timing. With the neighboring Verizon store moving out, the Booksmith can simply knock down a wall to form one larger space. Around the same time, they were also granted an alcoholic license by the Town of Brookline, allowing for a café that can sell food and beverages. Not all of the details are set in stone, but for Win, it’s important that the expansion enhances the environment that already exists.
“There’s a certain feel to this store when you walk in. It’s lively,” Win said. “Even if it’s not crazy busy, there’s usually something going on one way or the other, so we want to be able to just add to that. I think that people will come in specifically for the café and some will come in specifically for the store, but then they might go from one to the other when they see the other option.”
If all goes to plan, Win said, customers could enjoy the expansion as soon as this fall.
Just like with other independent bookstores, Brookline Booksmith has faced its own fair share of challenges. For example, Win mentioned how, when Barnes & Noble moved in down the street in the early 1990s, there was fear for the future of the Booksmith. Despite the concerns, the chain store moved out in 2008. Competition with larger sellers has been difficult, but Win believes that local businesses have a greater ability to know and cater to their customers.
“Maybe somebody comes to us: they heard about a book on the radio, and they don’t remember the title, and they don’t remember the author, but they remember something about it. Trying to figure out that puzzle and find the right book for someone is always super rewarding,” Win said. “I hope that that is what appeals to people, knowing that they can come here and that we’re going to do the best job that we can to help them out.”
On the other end, according to Win, support from the Brookline community also plays a role in combating the influence of internet business.
“It’s still out there. It’s not going away, but I think a lot of people now understand how important it is to support local businesses, whether it’s a bookstore, whether it’s restaurants, whether it’s retail businesses,” Win said. “It makes a difference if you buy from a business that is based in and owned and run in your community as opposed to something that is run somewhere else all together.”
Win said that customers have all sorts of stories and histories from their time spent at the Booksmith. Bookseller and senior Aidan Spino spoke to his own story.
“I’d always run in there as a child, and look in the back like, ‘Ooh, batman picture book,’” Spino said. “It was a place to be—a place to read, learn. The people there were so nice. I’d go there with my family because it was always a family spot.”
Interaction between the Booksmith and the greater region goes both ways. Home to more than just books and fun socks, the store also hosts readings and signings from renowned authors and local writers alike, letting readers interact with the minds behind their favorite works.
The store also maintains a link to the high school and teenage community. The Booksmith supports various clubs and organizations at the high school, supplies books and works with the teen center. In addition, they usually have one or two students on staff, like Geary and Spino. For Spino, his work has allowed him to gain confidence and a greater appreciation for the store that he grew up visiting with his family.
“I feel like it’s sort of a privilege to work there in a way,” Spino said. “I’m really happy that I got the job, and every experience I’ve had is positive. It makes me happy that the people who shop there love the store so much.”
According to Geary, who talks daily to visitors from far and wide and to regular customers who come for the newspaper each morning, Brookline Booksmith has a universal charm. It is a wonderland of literature and knick-knacks, a shelter for old souls.
“At least twice a day someone will tell me, “This is my favorite bookstore in the whole wide world,” Geary remarked. “I really think it’s had a great impact on the community because it’s been a nice, safe space. As soon as you walk in, you see the fairy lights, and it feels like home.”