Schoenhof’s Foreign Books, which bills itself as the oldest foreign language bookstore in America, will shutter its Harvard Square storefront next month. Opened in Boston in 1856, the bookstore will continue to operate as an online-only retailer. Schoenhof’s is the largest purveyor of foreign language books in the United States, the second oldest bookstore in New England, and the sixth oldest in the country overall.
Management cited the cost of rent as the primary reason for the closure. Reflecting on the "difficult decision to close the brick and mortar store," manager Daniel Eastman wrote that the shift to online sales will nevertheless, "allow Schoenhof’s to maintain as well as improve its web presence, and thus, continue to fulfill it mission."
“Given the present political and social climate," Eastman noted, "that mission becomes ever more meaningful.” The store’s last day will be March 25.
A longstanding resource for Boston’s universities, writers, and translators, the bookstore has been at its current location, a short distance from Harvard University, since 1983. Over the years, its customers comprised a distinguished list of authors including Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and Vladimir Nabokov. At its height, the 2,200 square foot store stocked 32,000 titles in over 160 languages. Skokie, Ill.- based specialty wholesaler MEP, Inc. purchased the bookstore from Editions Gallimard in 2005.
Schoenhof’s joins a growing list of print retailers that have struggled in the face of rising rents and new development in Harvard Square, which was once home to over a dozen bookstores. In late 2015, Raven Books moved across the Square after being confronted with a 40% hike in rent. The World’s Only Curious George Store was notified last fall that the building’s owner intends to redevelop the property, which will force the children’s bookstore from its current location. The city’s two newsstands are under threat as well, with one slated to close in the coming weeks after more than half a century in business.
Schoenhof’s is also the second globally renowned specialty bookstore to announce an online-only transition over the last few days. London-based theater bookseller and publisher Samuel French announced plans to go entirely digital after being hit with a 200% rent increase. The shop will close in April after 187 years in business.