Cambridge's Harvard Square may have more bookstores than any other city in Massachusetts, but New England's largest independent, Tatnuck Bookseller Marketplace & Restaurant, is actually halfway across the state in Worcester. Founded by Larry Abramoff in 1975 in Tatnuck Square and run by him and his wife, Gloria Abramoff, the store quadrupled in size a decade ago to 27,000 square feet when it moved into the Sleeper & Hartley building. Tatnuck has a number of strong book and gift sections, including its children's and teacher supply store-within-a-store. It also operates a full-service 156-seat restaurant, marked off from the books section by a green awning. "We serve the best martini of any bookstore in the country," Larry Abramoff likes to brag.
The store itself is airy and feels old-fashioned, from the machines on display that were originally manufactured right there down to the '60s-style Tatnuck logo encouraging customers to "Feed Your Head." All the display tables are on wheels so that they can be pushed back for large events, such as J.K. Rowling's first U. S. appearance.
This spring, the Abramoffs got the 10-year itch and decided it was time to expand again. Given that Worcester is home to a consortium of 15 four-year colleges, they looked to the college market for new locations. The success of their store at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which opened five years ago, no doubt played a role in their decision making, as did Tatnuck's recently installed section of books and insignia products for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
"To a lot of people, a college bookstore is a different business. To me, it's not," explained Larry Abramoff. "It's very similar to running a [trade] bookstore. You're a merchant. All the backroom functionary staff and skills are the same." To make those functions work even more smoothly, after BEA Tatnuck switched computer servers and went with Square One to manage inventory at all the stores.
Tatnuck began growing in March, when it moved the Polytechnic Institute store into the school's new Campus Center and increased its size from 3,700 to 5,700 square feet. In addition to the usual textbooks, stationery, computer software, insignia items and, for Tatnuck, food, the renovated Tatnuck Bookseller @ WPI has a coffee bar. In April, Tatnuck replaced Follett and began operating the two Becker College campus stores. Two months later, Tatnuck took over the Clark University campus store, which had been run by Barnes & Noble.
Not that the Abramoffs are ignoring their regular retail operations. Ten days after they moved the WPI campus store, they began renovating their outlet store, in a separate building diagonally across the street from their original Tatnuck's Marketplace. The Abramoffs also maintain an active custom publishing program, primarily of Worcester-related books, under the Chandler House Press name. The books are sold in the Marketplace's Worcester Street section, which also stocks Worcester-oriented prints, clothing and souvenirs.
Compared to Boston, Worcester may be number two, but for the Abramoffs that's not necessarily a bad thing. They follow Avis's business philosophy: "We try harder."