week, another Waldenbooks closedthe store on Great Plain Avenue in Needham.
Parent company Borders, Inc. has been systematically closing the aging Walden
stores for the past several years. To corporate planners, the Needham location
was simply a bullet on a Power Point presentation. One item on a long list. But
some folks in Needham see the closing on a more personal level. They feel that
something has been lost. And so, it seems, do I.
don't live in Needham; I haven't, for more than twenty years. My association with
that Waldenbooks dates back to 1982, when I was sent there as a newly-minted manager
with a mission: clean it up; and with a promise: if you get it running smoothly,
we'll give you the next big Boston store. It turned out my superiors were speaking
literally with their injunction to clean. This, I discovered the night before
I was due to start working. Using the key I'd been given, I let myself in after-hours,
thinking, "It's only been open a yearhow bad can it be?"
for me, the most zealous pack-rat you know, and multiply his or her stash ten-fold.
To that accumulation, add daily shipments of books, their associated bulk and
paperwork; throw in several fistfuls of broken Rubik's Cubes; finish with a generous
portion of cigarette butts. Now you have a sense of what I faced that Sunday evening.
Monday morning, I faced the staff. Armed with the Waldenbooks Action Plan I'd
typed in the intervening hours, I outlined the new rules of order. By the end
of the following day, everyone had resigned. It wasn't the action I had in mind,
but I was free to staff the store with a group of intelligent, dedicated, and
kind women, one of whomJune Eriksonmatched the right book with the
right customer for the next fifteen years.
year after my successful clean-up I moved to a bigger storenot a Waldenbooks,
but the soon-to-open six-story Boston University Bookstore. Several years later,
I launched my own business as a book industry consultant. Many
years passed before my own book was published and I was sent on book tour. A veteran
now of two tours, I've visited bookstores across the country, many large and filled
with light, and most of them independent. The Needham Waldenbooks was never on
can I feel the absence of a place I haven't visited in so long? Why, I can't even
say for sure what kind of store it has become; my image lives in memory, trapped
in time. I don't know, for example, what happened to the customer we called Mr.
Romance. He visited weekly, claiming his six packthe latest series romances,
bundled with a rubber band and set behind the counter. Surely, he had a name,
perhaps even a careerwe speculated he might be a budding, bearded romance
writer studying his craftbut names and numbers were unnecessary. He paid
cash, and we knew exactly what he wanted and where to find it.
Romance, if he lives, may order his books online these days. Amazon.com offers
the convenience of in-home shopping. But I'm guessing he'd prefer to pick up his
books in person. There's something that happens between the staff of neighborhood
store and its customers. It's a kind of knowing more even when you know less.
A kind of acceptance. A neighborhood bookstore will attract some folks you may
or may not want to invite to your next dinner partyeccentrics, misfits,
and even the occasional weirdo. But the staff of a good neighborhood bookstore
will make every one of those individuals feel welcome.
Waldenbooks in Needham, despite its corporate affiliation, was a neighborhood
bookstore: a place of comfort and stability for Mr. Romance, a place that offered
sociability and solace along with books to read. Many in Needham mark its closing
as the death of a good neighbor. To me, it feels like something closer to the
passing of a far-off relativesomeone who was always important to me, despite
the distance between us.