Harvard Book Store: An Independent and Innovative Community Hub

Julia Domenicucci ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Harvard Book Store sits on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Plympton Street, only a minute’s walk from the Harvard Square T stop. Although it boasts seemingly endless shelves of books, it is far more than literature that makes this store a classic Boston landmark.

The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: Julia Domenicucci
The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: Julia Domenicucci

Harvard Book Store has been a community hub since Boston-born Mark S. Kramer borrowed $300 from his parents to open it in 1932. Since then, it has gone through several locations, expansions, and owners (most recently, Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson). All these years later, Harvard Book Store remains an independent store, attracting local residents, students, faculty, and tourists.

Music, selected each day by the booksellers, greets every patron as they enter. The first floor holds carefully curated shelves of new books, and many texts are highlighted by staff recommendations. The store is neat and clean, with enough space between shelves for two people to browse comfortably. Along the walls, ladders evoking Beauty and the Beast allow staff to reach books stored higher up. Topics are designated by oval signs, and include everything from fantasy to cultural criticisms to feminism. Each month, seventy books—the “Select Seventy”—are put on a particular shelf and marked as 20% off. Additionally, the store offers a “Frequent Buyer” program that features two annual sales just for members.

Downstairs the store features an abundance of used books and remainders. The atmosphere has more of a “used bookstore feel,” featuring shelves plastered with quirky clippings, more casual signage, and a different soundtrack. Alex Meriwether, the Marketing and Events Manager, says that many patrons cite the downstairs as their favorite area. “When [they] talk about what they loved about the store they talk about being burrowed down in the used section,” he says.

Inside the Harvard Book Store. Photo Credit: Julia Domenicucci
Inside the Harvard Book Store. Photo Credit: Julia Domenicucci

Besides books, the Harvard Book Store is perhaps most famous for their events. With about twenty-five to thirty events hosted each month, there is something for everyone: readings, discussions, launch parties, free events, ticketed events, and more. Recently, the store has been partnering with outside organizations, such as Grub Street, to co-host events.

“The event series has been very successful,” Meriwether says, “We’re doing more and more events and getting more and more opportunities to host awesome people.”

The store also tries to host events that encompass many opinions and topics. “There’s a real effort that goes into making sure we have a diverse amount of speakers and voices here in the store,” Marcy Harris, the Marketing Coordinator, says.

The Harvard Book Store strives to include innovation in all aspects of its business, and this is perhaps most evident in the print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine. The contraption (appropriately named Paige M. Gutenberg) sits in a side area of the first floor, producing books that are out of print or self-published. Because of its many applications, Paige sees a lot of use; consequently, about a month ago, the store completely renewed the machine. To celebrate, the Harvard Book Store will be publishing a book of submitted micro fiction called Michrochondria II (the original Michrochondria was published in 2009 upon Paige’s arrival).

The Harvard Book Store draws in many different people. Whether you want to print your own novel, buy some remainders, go to a reading by a local professor, go to a reading by a famous author, or just support a Boston-area independent bookstore, the Harvard Book Store should be your first choice.


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