In December 2017, the World’s Only Curious George store, which is located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., got a reprieve to stay in the Square despite renovations that the Abbot Building in which it is located will undergo this summer. Other tenants in the building have already moved out.
Now the Curious George store is about to undergo some major changes of its own. Employees were notified last weekend that owners Adam and Jamie Hirsch, who in 2012 reopened a store dedicated to Curious George at the site of an earlier Curious George store opened by the now defunct WordsWorth Books, had sold it to Astra Titus, a consultant who has been working with the store on a partnership with the literacy non-profit Reach Out and Read.
Titus plans to move the store about a mile or so away to nearby Central Square, and expand its operations to function as both a bookstore and a community literacy space, including build-your-own book stations for children and interactive areas for parents to use curricula to help their kids with literacy skills. The developing partnership with Reach Out and Read will be a significant component of the store’s expansion.
While the store will remain a for-profit business, it is a shift, the new owner says, from being solely revenue-driven to being vision- and mission-driven. “My store vision is that retail and community-building are one and the same,” Titus told PW. “They’re inextricably woven together. I really want the store to be an anchor in the community, and in being an anchor, to help find ways that we can deliberately input tools that will create belonging.”
After meeting with representatives from Regency Centers, owners of the building where the store currently resides, Titus said she became convinced that she could not achieve her vision for the store in Harvard Square.
“When I was negotiating with [Regency] around what they were going to say or do, I felt no warmth. That is the antithesis of community building and creating connection,” Titus said. The store’s last day in its current location will be June 30.
Titus plans to expand the store’s collection of Curious George related merchandise. As for the books, she freely admits that while she has experience with youth literacy, she does not have a background in bookselling. For support, she has formed an advisory board that includes author and illustrator Peter Reynolds, owner of The Blue Bunny Books & Toys in Dedham, Mass.; and Jim James, owner of Park Street Books & Toys in Medfield, Mass.
In addition to Reynolds and James, Reynolds’ daughter Sarah—who manages The Blue Bunny—has volunteered to work with Titus and her staff on training and leadership development in the coming months. Adam Hirsch has also made himself available as Titus establishes herself in the new location, which she has under verbal agreement.
Titus is originally from Philadelphia, and she and her husband spent a stint in the Boston area, where he served with the U.S. Coast Guard. They have lived in Key West, Fla. and now live near Watkins Glen in upstate New York. Titus plans to run the Curious George store remotely, making frequent trips to get operations off the ground.
“I’m just chomping at the bit,” Titus said. “I want people—literally as soon as they walk in the door, even though they may not recognize or understand what they’re feeling—to know they belong in this place; to say, ‘This is my hangout. This is my Saturday morning place. This is my go-to.’ ”