Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Somerville’s Gil Barbosa: From Towing Cars to Towing Books.

Somerville’s Gil Barbosa: From Towing Cars to Towing Books.

By Doug Holder

  Gil Barbosa doesn’t look like a stereotypical bookseller. He is a burly man, with a plethora of tattoos on both of his muscled arms. His hands look like they have clashed with metal rather than a rarefied page in a brittle tome. Yet this former head of a towing business handles his new charges with great delicacy. Since June, 2011 he has been the proprietor of the Book Shop at Ball Square. And although he is not getting rich, he is getting by, not a small accomplishment in the indie book biz.

  Barbosa told me:

  “I have lived in Somerville all my life. Currently I live in the Spring Hill section of the city. The residents and the shop owners of Ball Square have been very supportive of the store. Somerville is a great place to do business.”

   For 25 years Barbosa was in the towing business, and decided not to bring his enterprise to the next level. It required a huge investment of time and money and Barbosa was tiring of doing this for over two decades. After being laid off from a state job at the Charles River Dam, he helped his aunt out at her bookstore: Annie’s Book Stop in Belmont, Mass. When his aunt gave her store up he inherited her inventory. He snagged a great deal on a lease in Ball Square, and the rest, as they say, is history. Barbosa reflected:

  “The people in the neighborhood are very appreciative that we are here. One person was surprised that places like my store even exist anymore. He thought they were extinct...”

  Barbosa feels stores like his creates nostalgia for a past when people had more time to browse much less read. Barbosa is a reader as well as confirmed bibliophile.  Currently he is reading “Ten Hills Farm” by C.S. Manegold. The book deals with Ten Hills Farm (which in the 1600’s occupied land that is now Somerville) that once held a large population of slaves. Who would of thought of it? The slaves of Somerville. Barbosa is also a big fan of the True Crime genre, and reads about everything from gangs, thugs, to serial killers.

 Although in his aunt’s shop in Belmont Romance novels were big selling items, here in the highbrow ‘hood of Somerville, the big ticket items tend to be Science Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Novels, etc… This is not to say Barbosa does not have Romance on hand—you always have to something about lust and love—right? Barbosa also has a poetry section, and sells used CDs and posters.

Barbosa is a champion of local authors. Writers like Peter David Shapiro “Ghosts on the Red Line,” and Bobby Martini “Citizen Somerville” have read at the store. And Barbosa has even ushered in local poets at a recent reading. Barbosa told me that he encourages Somerville’s active small press community to bring in their books, etc… to sell. And publishers—they have a very generous consignment policy!

 Barbosa feels there is a future for the “book” and the “bookstore.” He feels independents have created their own niche market and provide personal services that big chains don’t. Barbosa is optimistic about his prospects and hopes to be on the scene for years to come.

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