Thursday, January 24, 2008

I am in a McIntyre and Moore Frame of Mind

As you probably know by now McIntyre and Moore Booksellers is going to close April 1. Along with the Jimmy Tingle Theatre this is a big loss for Davis Square and Somerville. Word has it they might relocate to the old "Bookcellar" site in Porter Square. The site will be much smaller. The "Bookcellar" was another fine used bookstore that hit the dust some years ago.

If I were to go to central casting and say " Hey, Mac. I need a used bookstore and make it snappy,!" McIntyre and Moore would fit the bill perfectly. The place reeked of books, and these tomes seemed to grow like weeds on an unruly plot of land. The clerks had the look and acted like an organic part of the whole. McIntyre and Moore has hosted almost all of my literary journal's readings ("Ibbetson Street") over the past 9 years or so. A picture of McIntyre and Moore graces the cover of our latest issue that was recently featured in "Verse Daily." It has also hosted countless events for the literary community, and the community-at-large. The store will be sorely missed. Here is an interview I did for The Somerville News and the Lucid Moon Poetry site some years ago with one of the owners; Mike McIntyre.

Mike McIntyre Interviewed by Doug Holder:
A Conversation With Mike McIntyre of McIntyre and Moore Booksellers

When you walk in the McIntyre and Moore Bookseller in Davis Square, you probably shouldn't ask, " Hey, what's new!" This bookstore is an oasis of used tomes in a square that more and more worships the spanking new. The store has the perfect ambiance for a business of this nature. Books are crammed in every nook and cranny. Patrons, their necks craned like bemused birds, comfortably browse the large and eclectic selection of fiction, non-fiction and poetry on the shelves.
McIntyre and Moore was founded by Mike McIntyre, and Daniel Moore on Oct. 1983 in Harvard Square, Cambridge. For 15 years it was considered the best used bookstore in Harvard Square, and in Boston for that matter. In April of 1998, the business was moved to Davis Square. Since then it has become the center for the literary scene in Somerville.
On an unseasonably warm September morning I met with one half of the partnership that runs this store, Mike McIntyre. McIntyre is a large man with a full beard, and appears to be somewhere in his 40's. He looks more like an outdoorsman, than a man whose stock and trade is with books.

DH: What is it about about your background that lead you to a career with books? What kind of person gravitates to this business?

MM: I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. I would look around used bookstores, when I was in high school. In Chicago, (where I was a student at the Univ. of Chicago in the early 70's) I lucked into a part time job with POWELL'S, a big used bookstore in the area. I over heard the owner say on the phone that he needed a part time clerk. I walked over and said I was interested. He must of recognized me as a customer and said," Watch the store, I need to go to the bank." I guess I had the job...he was pretty casual about things. Selling and dealing books is not that attractive. The books themselves are. The people who go into the business would not go into any other type of retail. A friend of mine said she wanted to put up a sign in a bookstore she worked in, that read: " Don't bother the introverts." I am introverted. And this may be why there are so many grumpy book dealers, it comes with the personality. Handling books is is sort of like you are serving the books themselves. The book as an object, becomes an obsession when you do this work for awhile. One of the problems with the business is that people are constantly asking for things that don't exist. It is fustrating to be on the floor for me. The questions people ask are often not helpful, like: "Is the basement downstairs?" Obviously it is. They want to know where the door is, but people often ask these questions to start conversations. Being an introvert at heart, I find this difficult. So I stay behind the scenes, although I sometimes miss what's going on, on the floor.

DH: Is Somerville a good place to sell books?

MM: Somerville would be a better place if there was more bookstores. This would create a better atmosphere for selling. One store creates an interest in another. Stores often deal with in different books, so instead of being harmful, this sort of presence would be helpful to us. Somerville is a nice area. The street and traffic people really are cooperative here. When we first moved into the store, we had three meters bagged, so the trucks could unload. They don't take used bookstores for granted here.

DH: Could you talk about why you moved from Harvard Square to Davis Square?

MM: We were located in a residental area in Harvard Square. With the end of Rent Control, we lost a lot of our old customers. Basically, if you didn't own you were out. The people who came into the square after this were looking for an expensive meal, but not the type of books we sell. They were more general market book people. There were a number of reasons we left Harvard Square. As I said one was the end of Rent Control, the others were the lack of other used bookstores,(the closing of PANGLOSS bookstore really hurt us), and the lack of Asian customers. The Asians bought a lot of books, but for the last 10 years there has been a downturn in their economy. That market wasn't there anymore. Harvard Real Estate offered us a new lease, but it wasn't any lower than we were paying. We weren't sure if we could afford it for the length of the lease. Later they became sympathetic and might of even reduced the rent, but we felt that they couldn't lower it enough for us to stay. Somerville was receptive to our move. When we were first about to move to Davis Square, the alderman, Jack Connolly, took me to a community meeting. I was very well-recieved. The alderman claimed this was the best response he ever got, at one of these gatherings.

DH: What is the future of Independent bookstores around here and around the country?

MM: It's pretty frightening. You have to pay whatever you have to for rent. The same books could be sold from your own home, (that you own) for a lot less money. The scene for independents has shrunk. There are the Canterbury, the Brattle, Rodney's, Boston Book Annex, but the list is getting smaller. I think the trend is to sell on the Web, from people's own apartments. Of course I would rather have someone fall in love with a book in their own hands, than on the Internet. A book's condition can only be described so well on the Net. I think the big chains threaten the general bookstores more than us, because we are specialized.

DH: You are very open to carrying local titles, local small press, and holding readings for local authors and groups. Is this profitable. ? What is your philosphy behind this?

MM: Readings are good for presence...for people to know that we exist. It doesn't make us money, but it doesn't need to. People buy some books, but the monetary thing is not a factor. Peter Coyle, the store manager, is very good at handling these events.

DH: Who are your favorite writers.

MM: Let's see...Hemingway, Algren, Cord-Wainer-Smith, to name a few.

DH: What do you see as the future for your store? What plans do you have?

MM: I would like to keep on doing what we are doing. I would like to hire more workers. It is hard for people to live on what we can afford to pay, especially in Somerville where rents are very high. We do provide benefits, and advancement potential. If I could I would build a sort of a dormitory, a cooperative of sorts, where employees could live fairly cheaply. Many of the clerks live outside the city, and travel a fair distance to get here. I see us as being around for awhile to come.

by Doug Holder

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