Boston’s bookstore boom continues in 2023 with two more new shops
“It’s clear that the time is now, it’s clear that people are looking for the community of a bookstore.”
Two new independent bookstores will open in Roslindale and Dorchester this year, joining the recent wave of indie booksellers setting up shop in Boston.
First up is Rozzie Bound Co-op, which will host a grand opening in its brick and mortar store by the end of January, after hosting pop-up shops at the Substation since April 2021. Meanwhile, the owners of Words as Worlds, formally called “The Book Shop,” are aiming to open their doors in Fields Corner this fall.
The two stores won’t be alone in opening their doors to bibliophiles in 2023.
East End Books expanded into the Seaport at the end of 2022. While currently closed to complete the buildout of the bookstore at 300 Pier 4 Boulevard, the shop will reopen in March. Cambridge’s Harvard Book Store is also expanding into the city, opening a second location in the Prudential Center sometime during the spring.
Still others have plans to join the wave. A Sanctuary Cafe — a cat lounge, coffee shop, and micro-bookstore — has been proposed for Beacon Hill, with a goal of opening at 80 Charles St. in the spring. According to the Boston Globe, the business won approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals in November but is still working on securing a health variance from the city to host the cats and cafe in the same space.
The trend of new bookstores opening is not unique to Boston. The New England Independent Booksellers Association, which typically sees just a few new stores open each year, saw its new store membership go up by 30 in 2022. The renaissance mirrors a revival that has also been happening nationally in recent years.
It’s a resurgence that the owners of both Rozzie Bound and Words as Worlds say is exciting to be a part of.
“It’s clear that the time is now; it’s clear that people are looking for the community of a bookstore,” said Bing Broderick, who is working with co-owner Porsha Olayiwola to open the Dorchester shop. “And we’re excited to be inviting people in through that.”
In Roslindale, the vision of community ownership
The evolution of Roslindale’s new bookstore stretches back to December 2019, when Roy Karp first started the business, doing pop-ups at the Substation. But after just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, causing the cancellation of in-person bookselling and moving the bookstore to just online sales.
During the hiatus from in-person operations, the business forged partnerships with local nonprofits like the Friends of the Roslindale Branch Library. And a different approach to the bookstore’s business model began to take shape.
“I always had the idea of being a co-op,” Karp said. “I just wanted to get the ball rolling — the original pop-up was kind of an experiment. It was kind of floating the idea through the community.”
A co-operative steering committee was formed, with members of the Roslindale community exploring the possibility of converting the business from a sole proprietorship to a multi-stakeholder cooperative.
Inspired in-part by the Dorchester Food Co-op, the committee settled on a model that includes both worker owners and consumer owners. The business, which resumed pop-up operations in April 2022, officially incorporated as a co-op with five worker co-owners in early August.
Ana Crowley, one of the worker co-owners, said community building is a central part of Rozzie Bound’s evolution and mission going forward.
Being community owned, she said, allows them to focus on sustainability in all aspects of their practice.
“The idea of being community owned was really an important thing to all of us and, I think, to being part of Roslindale, that people take ownership of the store,” Crowley said. “And that really is a way of sustaining a business at this time. It’s both about community building, but also very practical in many ways.”
The group of co-owners set a goal of gaining 100 shares in the business by the end of 2022. They started with 88 in early December, and by the end of the year, they’d reached 127.
The boost in consumer owners is what helped them reach their goal of being able to open a brick and mortar space, Karp and Crowley said.
“What we told people when they bought the shares is: When you walk by that store, that storefront, and you see those books through the window, you can say that’s a community-owned store, we as a community helped start that store,” Karp said. “And people were just so excited about that.”
The business moved into its new space at 739 South St. the first week of January. The doors are now open as part of a soft opening with the goal of a grand opening for the space, which occupies just over 200 square feet, at the end of the month.
Crowley and Karp said visitors can expect floor-to-ceiling books, with the business hosting author signings in the new space. For events requiring more room, Rozzie Bound will likely continue its partnership with the Substation, they said.
Continuing to grow relationships with local authors and institutions around Boston remains top of mind.
“What struck me is the amount of talented writers in our own community of Boston,” Crowley said of the bookstore being a catalyst for in-person connections and conversation. “We almost have this ecosystem forming of the writers and the relationship with Rozzie Bound — and a lot of them have bought shares and become members. I find that to be really cool, cooperative economics, too. Where we’re really supporting the writers and the writers are supporting us. That’s been really wonderful, and such a wonderful group of people to meet.”
Creating a lively, fun, engaging place for the community to come and gather was central to the pop-ups the business held prior to opening its new space, and Karp said the hope is that will continue.
“That was always part of the vision of creating a community-owned bookstore,” he said.
A literary haven with a mission in Dorchester
Working together to bring community together around literary endeavors is nothing new for Broderick and Olayiwola, who is Boston’s poet laureate. They were introduced while Broderick was still serving as executive director at Haley House, where he worked for 16 years, and he was approached about starting a poetry slam.
The pair have been working together ever since. And when they heard that there was a need for somebody to occupy the retail space of a new building being developed at 1463 Dorchester Ave., they became excited about the potential of creating a space tied to literacy.
“Fields Corner is the heart and center of Dorchester,” Broderick said. “And it’s a real crossroads, literally, and we see it as an opportunity to really bring folks together across all of the different communities of Dorchester.”
As part of the process of getting the space, Broderick and Olayiwola submitted applications to the developer, moving forward with another finalist to present their proposals to the community, according to the Boston Globe.
Their proposal was chosen for the space in October, and since then, they’ve been busy organizing to become a 501c3, since they will have to raise funds to pay for the buildout of the store and the first year of operations.
Receiving community feedback and questions through the process, Olayiwola said, made clear the public supports their mission to provide literary offerings that are heavily curated through a social justice lens and a shop that provides space for people to be and gather together.
The name Words as Worlds captures the pair’s “ethos about the possibility of bookstores and book spaces to bring people together, to change the world, to exchange stories, either those written down or verbally, that allows other people to connect with each other and thusly move and shift things in our community,” Olayiwola said.
“We’ve been going with this tagline of ‘culturally curated, radically influenced, and locally inspired,’” she said. “And we are thinking about that as a pedagogy of sorts, of approaching our partnerships, of folks who see themselves in the community. There’s a whole range of folks who live in Fields Corner, who live in Dorchester or in Boston, and making sure through those three [tag lines] that folks will be able to occupy that space, whether that is through the cultural lens, the arts lens, whether that is the fact that it is radically influenced and leans heavily on the idea that we will do social justice-themed books … whether that be books in an array of languages that reflect the community.”
As a local writer herself, thinking about how the store can provide a space not just to readers but to writers in the community is also an imperative for Olayiwola. There will be a stage for events, like author talks, readings, and writing workshops, but the pair also see the space for community events that aren’t just focused on the written word, such as listening parties for local DJs or film screenings.
Connecting with universities in the area to highlight the work of authors in those communities is also a priority, Broderick said.
“We want to be the place that’s open, that folks are checking, ‘Oh what’s going on on the calendar tonight?’” Olayiwola said.
Currently, the business is in the “thick of fundraising,” but the hope is that they will open in the fall.
In the meantime, the community can sign up for their mailing list for updates on the store’s progress.
Olayiwola said it feels magical to be starting the shop, particularly at a time when there is swelling support for bookstores around the city and country.
“It’s really incredible to dream this up with Bing and then be moving through the process of actually having it start,” Olayiwola said. “And I also just think that what bookshops are and what they mean for the country, what they mean for a neighborhood, what they mean for me … it captures the idea of thinking, of thoughts, of being a person in conversation with the world and also of permanence. The idea that something or a story could last forever. And I think doing that work and doing it in this way, that also feels very permanent and like a writing of something.
“So for me, it’s very magical,” she continued. “That’s not the exact word I’m looking for, but I think it gets as close to it as possible.”
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