Harvard Bookstore To Bring Literary Culture to the Pru
A post for the bookish
Boston’s Prudential Center is crammed with stores that, for the most part, are irrelevant to me. Clothing for skinny 20-somethings (I don’t begrudge—they can’t go nude), a Sephora with hundreds of lip glosses and other things to smear on your face, and Eataly, with some good restaurants, smooth espresso, and a variety of pastas for purchase that almost rivals the number of Sephora’s lip glosses. Love Wagamama.
Still, I find myself at the Prudential Center every few months when I am in Boston. The Pru provides a place to get in some steps and to people-watch. Given that the rest of the commercial offerings are not for me, I always felt a sense of relief when I could stumble into the Barnes and Noble Bookstore (not my favorite, but still, a bookstore) and browse and buy.
No more. A few weeks ago en route to B&N, I turned a corner of one of the boulevard-sized hallways in the Pru and saw this:
Those massive gray walls are where B&N used to be. Gone. A bored cop confirmed that it had closed a few months ago. I snapped a photo of the void and started searching my phone for news accounts.
That’s when I discovered this unexpected truth. Following a gargantuan renovation, another bookstore, Harvard Bookstore no less, is taking over the space. It’s expected to open sometime in the spring of 2023.
At 30,000 square feet, the new location is 5 times the size of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. In a letter to its customers, the independently-owned bookstore assured that it would continue to devote all necessary resources to the original store that has been welcoming readers since 1932. It sees the second location as an opportunity to support a literary community in the Back Bay. More space means it can accommodate things its flagship Cambridge store cannot: a children’s section and a state of the art event space for readings and community gatherings.
I am torn. I want a bookstore in the Pru, and Harvard Bookstore has been a favorite of mine since I was a student in Boston. But the footprints and the feel of the old and new locations couldn’t be more different. The Cambridge store is quintessentially cozy, with nooks of books; it would make the perfect movie set for a rom-com where the love interests narrowly miss and then finally happen upon one another in the poetry section. Years ago, the human scale of the place resulted in what is now a once-in-a-lifetime memory for me. I had squeezed into a narrow aisle there and was facing the bookshelves when I took a step back to read the titles more easily. At the same time, a gentleman I did not see was trying to make his way around me. Both of us misjudged and we stumbled into one another. He was more sure-footed and caught me as I tried to regain my balance, while we competed to take responsibility for the mishap with dueling (“Pardon me!” “No, my fault entirely.”) apologies. When I raised my eyes, I realized I was in the arms of author Salman Rushdie. I was awkward. He was charming.
I can’t see that happening in the cavernous, 30,000 square-foot Pru space.
I suppose I can learn how to chat with, maybe even stumble into, fellow bookstore customers across the great expanse, though proximity in closer quarters is always my preference. No doubt, I will learn to love the new store. It will still be a shelter from the rest of the Pru. And most importantly, it’s . . . books.
(Photo, top, courtesy of press release, Harvard Bookstore. Photo of the void by Susan B. Apel, photo of Harvard Bookstore courtesy of Edgar El via Wikimedia Creative Commons. Salman Rushdie continues his recovery from severe injuries sustained when he was attacked onstage in Chautauqua NY in August. Please hold a good thought for him.)
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Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.