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Brookline Booksmith

by Connyr Lu

Photo courtesy of Geena Grant

Fairy lights twinkle from the high ceilings of this spacious yet cozy nook in Brookline. Children happily bounce in, restrained only by the hands of their parents. Curious dogs pull their owners inside and are greeted by treats at the counter. At Brookline Booksmith, everyone feels at home.

A sizable chunk of Brookline Booksmith’s main floor is home to an assortment of small trinkets, from stackable stones to leather handbags. Witty cards and wittier socks hang on revolving display racks, pairing well alongside the titles of the month’s bestselling books.

“We host book tours, book clubs, and we sell a lot of other products,” said Peter Win, co-owner and co-manager of Brookline Booksmith. “Our non-book merchandise section takes up about 30 percent of our business, and honestly without it, we wouldn’t be here today.”

While the Booksmith has proven stable, digital services such as Amazon’s Kindle have grown more popular. They’ve redefined convenience; and bookstores—locals and giants alike—have felt the impact. According to Win, the non-book section requires a separate manager to think about what products would be fitting to sell while considering what neighboring businesses are offering, as well.

To small bookstores, and Brookline Booksmith especially, the business of bookselling is not just about the retail—it’s about the daily human interactions.

“I would say that we’re kind of the community center around here, and I’m sure people who know us or work with us would agree,” Win said, leaning back in his chair. “People are always coming in here asking for directions or about what’s going on in Brookline for the month. It’s nice knowing people look to us for that kind of stuff.”

Big competitors such as Kindle cannot compete with small businesses in terms of personalized customer service, but they have forced smaller booksellers worldwide to rethink their business models. For Brookline Booksmith, that meant carefully selecting products that would entice customers to walk in one day, and keep walking in for years to come.

“I grew up around here and I used to come here whenever I had a school project and needed research help,” said Daphne Russo, a Brookline-born Houston resident. “Now I just stop by whenever I’m in town because it reminds me of my childhood. I also just bought a planner and some plates here, which is a weird combination, but they really have everything.”

When the store first opened in 1961, it opened with the slogan: “Dedicated to the fine art of browsing.” The Booksmith continues to stay grounded to its roots and is just as open to browsers and passersby as it is to paying customers.

“I love working here because I just love talking to people,” said Paul Theriault, a 20-year veteran of Brookline Booksmith. “I started work here right out of college, and the people kept me here. We’re all bookworms here, you know.”

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