Boston-area booksellers are out to prove that pop-up bookshops are increasingly important for stores, whether they are well-established or just starting out. In conversations with four pop-up proprietors, PW explored how temporary microstores are helping booksellers find new ways to reach readers.
“A Great Chance”
The Peet’s Coffee in Brookline, Mass., closed last January, but the wood-paneled space with large windows just steps from bustling Coolidge Corner hasn’t had a new tenant move in. That vacancy got Brookline Booksmith co-owner Peter Win and his staff thinking about what they might do with the space as the holiday season approaches. “It’s a really great space with lots of windows and natural light,” Win says.
Located just three doors down from the Booksmith, the vacant location has the same landlord as the bookstore, so Win inquired about converting it into a pop-up store from mid-November until January 1. With permits in place, the store opened on November 15.
“It gives us a chance to try some different things, especially given the fact that the space is so close by,” Win says of the pop-up, which contains 12,000 remainders, some of which previously occupied prime table space near the front of the bookstore. In that way, the pop-up gives the store additional space during a busy time of year.
“It frees up space in our store, which is at such a premium,” Win says. “We’ve pretty much maximized what we can do with our space, but this was an opportunity to do something different.” At the same time, he adds, “It gives us a chance to move and display our remainders in a whole different way. They’ll be really nicely visible.”
Win has no plans to take over the space permanently, but he says reception of the short-term occupancy has been positive. “There’s just a lot of excitement in the neighborhood that something’s going into that space,” Win says. “Commercial rents are very expensive, so people were excited to see that something might be happening there.”
A Way to Launch
High commercial rents are the main reason Roy Lincoln Karp and Tom Nealon are starting Rozzie Bound as a monthly weekend-long pop-up in Turtle Swamp Brewing’s beer hall, in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. A veteran bookseller, Nealon previously owned Pazzo Books, a used and antiquarian bookstore that he now runs online.
The two will largely use Nealon’s existing stock to launch their pop-up the weekend before Christmas. For Karp, it’s an exciting way to begin to learn the book trade while also proceeding carefully.
“I’m very risk-averse,” Karp says. “I just want to start small and see if we can make it work. Roslindale doesn’t have a single bookstore, so I want to put that idea out to the community and see how the community responds.”
Karp is hopeful that the store will follow a similar path as the brewery, which began as a pop-up and grew over time, ultimately taking its current space in a refurbished city substation. Karp has already looked at spaces for a more permanent location but says the costs are still too high. Instead of rushing, he is studying the business of bookselling and exploring different ownership models, and planning to reach out to the city of Boston’s technical-assistant program for employee-ownership models.
A mile and a half from Porter Square Books in Somerville, Mass., one-year-old Bow Market has emerged as a hub for arts and crafts. The two-story marketplace houses small shops and restaurants, including space for one-week pop-ups, so when five booksellers realized they all lived nearby, they decided to try it out.
Calling their venture Porter Square Limited Editions, the booksellers have stocked the store with only 25–30 titles, all of which are staff picks. “The idea was that, because it’s staff picks by someone who you are likely to see, it’s a concentrated version of the indie bookstore experience,” says Josh Cook, who is one of the five booksellers who staffed the location in mid-November.
Before opening, Cook and his fellow booksellers reached out for advice from Silver Unicorn owner Paul Swydan and MIT Press Bookstore manager Clarissa Murphy, who ran a romance pop-up at the location in February. The two provided tips on how to organize a small space and keep things simple and focused.
For Cook, the pop-up has provided an opportunity to think creatively about what a bookstore can look like, and if the one-week residency is successful, the store will consider trying it again.
Among his ideas are pop-ups that feature translations or Boston presses. “One of the real joys of the pop-up is you can try something,” Cook says. “However you want to slice the world of books up, you can you can see what works.”
A More Permanent Pop-Up
When Astra Titus purchased the iconic World’s Only Curious George Bookstore in May, she knew big changes were afoot. The store’s location at the center of Harvard Square was set for renovation, and Titus announced plans to move to nearby Central Square. That plan hasn’t changed. Titus expects to open the flagship location in late spring or early summer, with a broadened educational mission alongside a large stock of children’s books, including Curious George titles.
With the Harvard Square location now closed, Titus has opened the Curious George Store Minimart in the main entry to the same Bow Market where Porter Square Books is experimenting with its own version of pop-ups. Titus says she has been thrilled by the energy and spirit of collaboration that the marketplace provides for the pop-up. The store opened on November 9, and Titus plans to evaluate by early January whether a longer-term stay makes sense.
“I love the market because it is fiercely independently quirky,” Titus says. Having never run a bookstore before, she’s found that the chance to start fresh with a small location has been positive and invigorating for her staff—especially her senior manager, Rosa Irene.
“It’s cool to see that she’s able to exercise her creativity in a way that she couldn’t do in the old store,” Titus says. “And it’s a really good mini experience for me as an entrée in terms of creating something my own.”