It was 13 years ago that we moved the store from Amherst, MA to Cambridge, MA. Thanks to everyone for a great run during this period!
CAMBRIDGE (Hoodline) – Wondering where to find the best bookstores near you? Hoodline crunched the numbers to find the top bookstores in Cambridge, using both Yelp data and our own secret sauce to produce a ranked list of the best spots to venture next time you’re in the mood for a good read.
Topping the list is Harvard Book Store. The Cambridge institution is unaffiliated with the university, and instead of textbooks, it boasts two floors of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and more, both new and used. It also hosts author events on an almost daily basis.
Located at 1256 Massachusetts Ave. in Harvard Square since 1932, it is the highest-rated bookstore in Cambridge, boasting 4.5 stars out of 310 reviews on Yelp.
A few blocks away is Raven Used Books, situated at 23 Church St. With origins in Western Massachusetts (including Montague Bookmill, of which Raven owner John Petrovato was a co-owner in the 1990s), Raven moved into this spot in 2015. It specializes in scholarly and literary titles and benefits from a large volume of turnover, so that there is always something new to discover.
With 4.5 stars out of 112 reviews on Yelp, the shop has proven to be a local favorite.
MIT Press Bookstore is another top choice, with Yelpers giving it five stars out of 38 reviews. This shop is owned and operated by the university press. It stocks most of the books and journals published by the MIT Press, along with selected books from other publishers working in related fields, such as art and architecture, computer science, cognition, neuroscience and linguistics.
The bookstore moved in 2016 from its longtime but cramped quarters in Kendall Square to this much larger store at 301 Massachusetts Ave.
check out our Facebook page for regular updates about new collections, etc. Also feel free to contact us with any questions
Harvard Square becoming increasing difficult place to have a local business. thanks to Shaw for his commentary.
Sad to see this 10 year old establishment leaving! They opened up across from our original location a couple of years after us and was a hugely popular place.
ON MARCH 25, Harvard Square will bid a final farewell to Schoenhof’s Foreign Books. The 150-year-old bookstore currently lives on Mount Auburn Street, and rents its basement storefront from the Spee Club. Daniel Eastman, director of sales and marketing, told The Boston Globe that the club “has been really kind with us. This should have happened three years ago, but they tried really hard to find some way to help us stay.” The demise of Schoenhof’s, the largest brick-and-mortar retailer of foreign-language books in North America, is more than just a blow to wistful world travelers and language learners; it’s a loss for the Harvard community, which similarly lost The Globe Corner Book Store, one of the largest map and travel-book retailers in the country, to untenable rent increases in 2011.
In the final weeks of Schoenhof’s physical presence in the Square, other local independent booksellers face mounting rent prices, a shift in book-buyers’ purchasing behavior, and, most notably, tough competition from the Harvard Coop, which came under the management of corporate giant Barnes and Noble roughly two decades ago. For niche book lovers, Grolier Poetry Book Shop is an unmissable gem—it boasts a collection of more than 15,000 volumes and has a history of hosting celebrated names like e.e cummings ’15, T.S. Eliot ’10, Litt.D. ’47, and Marianne Moore. Ifeanyi Menkiti, who purchased the store as it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in 2006, says, “For us, it was all about this place and its history. It would be a shame to lose this culture. I’m from Nigeria, where history and culture matter.” Menkiti is professor emeritus of philosophy at Wellesley, and cites the income stability of teaching as a key reason why he and his wife felt able to take on the responsibility of running Grolier in the years it was struggling to stay afloat. “It is a labor of love,” says Menkiti. He remembers recently hosting a teenager from Newton-North High School who spent hours reading and laughing while perusing the shelves of the bookstore. The sense of fulfillment derived from seeing young people continue to discover and enjoy poetry sustains Menkiti’s mission to share Grolier’s collections with audiences who journey from across the country or across Harvard Yard to read the volumes he has available.
Just around the corner, Harvard Book Store offers ample reading material, both new and used, to patrons seeking a more generalist selection. Jeff Mayersohn bought the store at the end of 2008, “probably at the worst possible moment to buy a bookstore,” he says, referring to the economic turmoil in the United States at the time. Yet running a bookstore was a long-running dream, and Harvard Book Store was up for sale just around the time he was ready to retire and turn to a new project. Like all independent booksellers across the country and in Harvard Square, Mayersohn admits that the rise of online retailers like Amazon has posed a serious challenge for business, but explains how he found a silver lining: “People were lamenting the digitization of books as the end of the brick-and-mortar book store, but I saw it as a huge advantage. With the cloud, we had access to the same books that massive corporate book stores did.” To this end, Harvard Book Store is home to an Espresso book machine, which offers patrons the opportunity to print books on demand, including their own works. In addition to offering print services, Harvard Book Store holds betweetn 350 and 450 author readings each year in order to drive business to the store and combat steadily rising rents. Both the Harvard Book Store and Grolier rent from the University itself, and Mayersohn says Harvard has reassured his staff of its commitment to protecting brick-and-mortar businesses in the Square.
For John Petrovato, who has run Raven Used Books for roughly 20 years, the rent increases in Harvard Square have been something of a blessing in disguise. After Raven moved from its pricey basement location on busy JFK Street to a cheaper spot on Church Street, sales have been up and foot traffic has been higher than ever. “For what we do, the Square is the best place in the country we could be,” he says. Raven’s shelves of used books serve students, faculty members, and tourists looking for a brick-and-mortar shop that can match Amazon’s bargain prices, a luxury that places like Schoenhof’s and other new-book sellers don’t have. Petrovato explains that the prohibitive cost of retail space in the Square will continue to shape the kinds of stores that open there, citing prominent real estate that has gone to corporations like CVS and Urban Outfitters instead of small businesses. “World-class bookstores are trying to get into Harvard Square, and they just can’t afford the rents. Since I’ve been here, there’s easily been an increase of three to four times.”
Perhaps somewhat ironically, Schoenhof’s will continue to serve readers online, putting a medium that played a critical role in the store’s demise to good use in this next stage of the business. Its decision echoes steps considered by old Harvard Square mainstays like WordsWorth Books, which went out of business in 2004 and similarly considered taking its business online, only to fail to do so. For the time being, the best way for the Harvard community to help local booksellers may be to spend a peaceful afternoon perusing their shelves, instead of quickly typing a title into an Internet browser.
Sad to hear that Schoenhofs bookstore is closing. One of the oldest bookstores in the country that specializes in foreign language titles.
After 161 years of business, Schoenhof’s Foreign Books plans to permanently shutter its doors on March 25.Schoenhof’s, the self-described “oldest and largest foreign language-only bookstore in the United States,” was originally founded in Boston in 1856. The store moved to Cambridge in the early 1900s and has been at its Mount Auburn St. location in Harvard Square since 1983.
In a press release announcing the closure, Daniel Eastman, Schoenhof’s general director, wrote that high rents in the Square and competition from online booksellers prompted the store to close.
“In recent years a number of independent businesses have been driven out of the Square by the high rents, and Schoenhof’s finds itself joining their ranks,” Eastman wrote.
Eastman said that while the closing is not ideal, he understands that Schoenhof’s had to shutter its brick and mortar location.
“Our landlord has been quite helpful with us, quite helpful and supportive, but there is only so much that they can possibly do,” Eastman said. “There comes a point when what they’re ready to concede and what we’re able to give can’t meet.”
For several decades, Schoenhof’s has rented its location from the Spee Club.
Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that consumers should prioritize buying from local businesses like Schoenhof’s to prevent their closure.
“You can’t expect that bookstores or newspaper stores or retailers of any kind will survive if people continue to buy online. That’s just the reality,” Jillson said.
David A. Gevarter ’19 said he was disappointed to hear the news. As a Romance Languages and Literature concentrator who speaks English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and German, Schoenhof’s was his go-to bookstore.
“I’m a big language nerd, so I am very excited to be able to go into a store where they have a couple hundred languages available,” Gevarter said.
Gevarter also praised Schoenhof’s staff.
“I think the staff for sure was one of the best parts in addition to having such an amazing collection of books,” he said. “The staff there is incredibly knowledgable and very helpful. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or if you’re just browsing, they are very helpful helping you find something that you’d be interested in.”
In the press release, Eastman said Schoenhof’s will maintain its online store as a way to continue to fulfill its mission.
“The mission of Schoenhof’s has always been to provide access to the larger world through language learning materials and literature in the original,” wrote Eastman in the press release. “Given the present political and social climate, that mission becomes ever more meaningful.”
Eastman said the website will offer a wide variety of foreign books at a low cost.
“We’d like to be able to take advantage, in a way, of having, say, the reduced expenses of our retail location, and invest that into having an amazing website that offers a complete experience, a complete customer experience as close to actually being in a bookstore without being able to be there, as well as offering the lowest possible pricing,” Eastman said.
Schoenhof’s has been a longtime member of the Harvard Square Business Association and is active in community events, particularly the Bookish Ball and Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebration, according to Jillson.
“It has been so lovely because we clearly get visitors from across the globe, and for us to be able to send them to Schoenhof’s to get a book in Portuguese or a book in French or a book in Spanish is just a delight, and something that is very unique and really will be a loss for Harvard Square,” Jillson said.
Jillson emphasized the importance of going out and buying from local retailers.
“It’s how much they care, and if they care, they will think twice before they go to Amazon to buy something,” Jillson said. “If they don’t walk out of their dorm room or out of their home and into the Square and into a store to support that store—and I don’t care whether it’s a local, regional, national, or international—if you don’t do that, the vibrancy of the Square or of any business district is jeopardized.”
Though Eastman said he is sad to see Schoenhof’s brick and mortar location go, he said he has high hopes for its online future.
“We really appreciate the support that we received from the students at Harvard over the last, my God, over 90 years that we’ve been in Cambridge. And we just hope that they’ll continue to visit us online,” Eastman said.
–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.
—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at email@example.com.