Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Porter Square Books: A fiercely independent bookstore serves Somerville.

Porter Square Books is a survivor. They not only survived but flourished during their first year in the highly competitive and demanding book business. Dale Szczeblowski, the general manager, Jane Dawson, the operational manager, and Carol Stoltz, the Children’s Books Manager, talked about the success of this small, fiercely independent bookstore located smack dab in the Porter Square Mall, right next to the Shaw’s Market.

These refugees for the Concord Bookstore, in the upscale suburb of Concord, Mass., all agreed that their expectations for the store, and then some, were met in this seminal year. Szczeblowski, the energetic general manager, said they have 13,000 customers on their data- base, and a heap of positive feedback from the bibliophile denizens of the surrounding area.
People in the Somerville and Cambridge neighborhoods that the store borders are pleased that they can get the personal touch here, and not have to deal with the impersonality of a large chain. Jane Dawson stressed that the store will remain “fiercely independent,” and it will continue to listen intently to what customers have to say. All three seem to know that customers appreciate that.

These booksellers find that the many of their customers are in the 25 to 35 age range; recent college graduates, and often in their first job. They say the popular titles among this group are: Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty,” ( Fiction), “ Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracey Kidder (Non-Fiction), and they expect Bob Dylan’s memoir “Chronicles,” to experience a resurgence due to the PBS documentary and DVD release.

Szczeblowski said that a bookstore’s success depends on it being part of the community. This involves carrying books by local authors and independent presses. The store carries small literary magazines such as the ‘Heat City Review,” and the “Ibbetson Street Press.” They also carry titles from “Ebb Tide,” a small press in Cambridge. They have nurtured relationships with Steven Cramer the director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Lesley University, Somerville’s “Kennedy Elementary School,” “Tufts University,” the
“Kennedy School of Government” at Harvard University, the “Blacksmith Poetry Reading Series,” and “New England PEN,” to name a few. They are also a sponsor of “The Somerville News Writers Festival,” to be held Nov. 13 at 7PM at the “Somerville Theatre,” in Davis Square.

Carol Stoltz, (originally from my own stomping grounds of Bronx, NY), said that the Children’s Book Department is very popular. She has nurtured relationships with the Cambridge and Somerville public schools, as well as local public libraries.

When asked about the staff at Porter Square Books Dawson said that all are well-read and have eclectic backgrounds. One bookseller was a former marketing manager at Polaroid, another was in the Antiquarian book business, one is a veteran mountain climber, and a “young fellow,” in receiving is a budding poet.

All three managers were excited about the opening of a café in the front of the store in the coming weeks. This will just add to that down-home, comfy, and decidedly bookish atmosphere Porter Square Books has created, and will most assuredly sustain.

Doug Holder
* Porter Square Books is located in Porter Square at the Mall 25 White St. 617-491-2220
* Bring your toddler to a special party Oct. 5 at 11 AM. 10% discount on all books -- Cake, Prizes, etc...


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