Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA
In 1961, when Marshall Smith opened Brookline Booksmith with the slogan "Dedicated to the fine art of browsing," he did something that was rare at the time—arranged books by category so people could find what they were looking for. Back then stores grouped books by publisher, and you can imagine the difficulty that presented. This year Brookline Booksmith, located in Coolidge Corner, a pedestrian neighborhood of Brookline, Massachusetts, celebrated its 50th anniversary as vigorous and innovative as it was that first year.
In his eighties, Marshall Smith is still majority owner and remains involved, although management now falls to Dana Brigham, co-owner, who has been with the store for only 30 years.
In its mid-sized space, Brookline Booksmith achieves creativity from compression, from straddling that line between being too crowded and too spacious; it generates energy from browsers among the books, magazines, gifts and artist's supplies; energy from the almost nightly book signings, talks and poetry readings; energy from the monthly book club, the Sunday evening knitting club and the dogs that are always welcome inside. Without the area of a big-box store Brookline Booksmith must be selective; it can't waste space and the knowledgable staff fills the shelves with a well chosen, eclectic mix.
Dana Brigham, co-owner
Brookline Booksmith doesn't have a coffee shop or snacks, but outside the store does have dog bowls filled with water and biscuits. Inside, a low table provides a place for children to read to themselves or to listen as parents read to them.
As the neighborhood changes, Brookline Booksmith adapts. Long gone is the videostore in the basement, replaced now with a used book cellar accomodating every budget, from books at half the cover price, to those for $1 and for $0.50. The buyer there has a discriminating eye and as a result the used book cellar has not become a dumping ground for castoffs past their heyday; I always find an interesting title to buy—something not true of many other places selling used books.
With the growth of online commerce Brookline Booksmith has its own internet presence with the web site at this link: http://www.brooklinebooksmith.com/
Always able to make a recommendation or answer a question, the staff keeps in touch with the community by posting to a blog and contributing book news to an online newslettter sent by “Bmail.”
To call it venerable gives Brookline Booksmith a creaky patina that it doesn't deserve. Instead, with the original 50 year-old wood floor, this spry fixture of the neighborhood opens earlier than the other shops in the area (except for Starbucks and the drugstore) and closes later (except, of course, for Starbucks and the drugstore). No wonder, then, why Brookline Booksmith won the ABA's Bookstore of the Year in 1998, and has been a Best of Boston from Boston magazine in seven of the last nine years.