Last month, Shelf Awareness editor-in-chief John Mutter went on a whirlwind bookstore tour in Massachusetts with New England Independent Booksellers Association executive director Steve Fischer. This is part two; see part one here.
From Brookline, we headed to the Back Bay section of Boston and Trident Booksellers & Café, which was founded 30 years ago this fall by Bernie and Gail Flynn. The store prepared for the big anniversary in a big way: it completed a major expansion last year, adding 2,500 square feet of space, including a second café, on the second floor of its building, above the original 4,250 square feet of space. On the first floor, the old café continues to operate, and the kitchen serves both cafés.
|Bernie and Courtney Flynn
Courtney Flynn, daughter of Bernie and Gail and very active in the store, gave Steve and me a tour. Eventually Bernie appeared after a long bike ride, and we all wound up in the new upstairs café, a beautiful space with a wall of huge windows overlooking Newbury Street. Bernie summed up the store in a way that was apparent to anyone who enters its doors: "We're still here and vibrant."
Trident is full of nooks and crannies that include magazines and other sidelines, particularly gifts and games. (Even the stairs are used as display space for gifts.) With the expansion, the store has devoted more space to books, which number more than 20,000 and include some used titles and a strong selection of remainders. It's expanded its children's and fiction offerings, which are mainly on the first floor; a lot of nonfiction is upstairs. Giving books "more room to breathe" has helped sales, Bernie said, and while at times in the past, the café in effect has subsidized book operations, now books are "doing well."
Like the original café downstairs, the upstairs café serves beer and wine as well as a range of food. Trident is open from 8 a.m.-midnight every day of the week and serves food throughout that time. The upstairs cafe is available for rental for functions--it's hosted graduation parties and wedding rehearsal dinners, among other occasions--and makes a great location for readings and other events, such as the extremely popular Friday Night Trivia, cooking demos and beer tastings, managed by events coordinator Emily Hopkins. The space also has a projector and screen where movies can be shown.
Trident offers free wi-fi throughout the store and has electrical outlets in the cafes to make it easy to keep devices going. In addition, in a discrete area next to the upstairs café, it has a table and stools designed specifically for people with laptops to work at undisturbed.
One way the store is celebrating its 30th is with a party in August for other Boston area booksellers "for an evening of hanging out and chatting," as Courtney put it.
Bernie Flynn is still involved very much in the store, especially buying, but he is cutting back somewhat and spending more time in Vermont, he said. With Courtney so involved and managing well, it seems that the older generation of Flynns don't have to worry about a Trident transition.
From Trident, we headed to Cambridge and Porter Square Books, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this fall (in just 20 more years it'll catch up with Trident). The founders were refugees from the Concord Bookshop, and they had a different kind of celebration recently: in a sort of storybook ending, they sold the bookstore in August to David Sandberg and Dina Mardell, who have lived in the area since 1990. He is a former Google executive with a background in literature; she has a background in education with a focus on early literacy. Of the founders, who put the store up for sale because some of them wanted to retire, personnel manager Jane Dawson retired at the time of the sale; buyer Jane Jacobs has also retired; Carol Stoltz heads the children's department; manager Dale Szczeblowski is definitely staying on. (Dale seemed very happy with how the sale has played out.)
Porter Square Books was bustling late on a Tuesday afternoon, and it was hard to find a parking space in the Porter Square Shopping Center. Dale noted the founders had taken a bit of a risk when they opened the store in the Porter Square area, but one that wound up being very rewarding. The area is vibrant, and the Porter Square station--a stop on both the Red Line and the Fitchburg commuter line--a few minutes' walk away adds to the busy, happening feel.
The store is thriving, a great example of general independent stores. In its 4,500 square feet of space, it offers an excellent selection of adult and children's books and sidelines and has Café Zing, which serves coffee, tea, other beverages, baked goods and lunch. (Because the space is relatively small, the café offers free wi-fi for an hour with purchases.)
The store has a strong events program and an established staff. Typical is Josh Cook, who has been with the store since it opened. He's a bookseller, magazine buyer and online manager. As if that's not enough to keep him busy, he has a novel called Trike and Lola that Melville House is publishing early next year.
The store's 10th anniversary party will take place September 28. In the meantime, Porter Square has been celebrating by offering 10% discounts in particular sections on the 10th of every month. (Today's 10% discount applies to the art & architecture and paperback picture books sections.)
Over dinner, co-owner David Sandberg talked enthusiastically and appreciatively about the purchase of the store, praising the four co-sellers for making the transition manageable. He said he couldn't have taken the reins of the the store without help and noted that friends who are not in the book world are considering opening a bookstore "from scratch," which he said he couldn't imagine.