February 20, 2020

Famous Massachusetts indie looking for new home; despite boom, some indies still struggling


Word that beloved Newton, Mass. independent bookstore New England Mobile Book Fair has laid off staff and is looking for a new home belies the common narrative that indie bookstores are enjoying an across-the-board renaissance.

According to an article in Patch by Jenna Fischer, the New England Mobile Book Fair—which we former New Englanders know is neither mobile nor a fair—must find a new home soon or face the end of a 65-year run as one of the Boston area’s most beloved stores.

“It was the bookstore where I shopped for most of my life,” said Newton native and Melville House intern Sarah Alpert. “I used to go there at least once a week, to calm my nerves and sift through remainders.” According to Alpert, NEMBF’s troubles were accelerated by the move from the iconic warehouse site to a temporary home in a nearby strip mall. “The new store lacked the charm of the old store, the dark and bookish feeling that I used to crave. I was relieved, though, to find that they were at least surviving and hadn’t gone far. I really hope they stay in the area, so that I can continue to browse when I feel like book shopping.”

Even aside from our long-time status as part-time booksellers here at John Street, we have a long memory of tragically departed stores (au revoir, St. Mark’s! so long, Coliseum! sayonara, Gotham Book Mart!), and we feel like we die a little death every time an indie closes.

The plight of NEMBF, as well as of other struggling indies like New York’s Book Culture, indicates that high rent and competition from online booksellers like Amazon are still formidable threats for many independent bookstores, even as the trend, thankfully, seems to continue in the other direction. As has been widely reported—even The New York Times stopped interviewing Trump voters in diners long enough to report got in on the trend!—independent bookstores have been enjoying a recent resurgence.

The news doesn’t help New England Mobile, though. The Patch article quotes NEMBF owner Tom Lyons, who has taken to driving Uber part-time in order to make up the financial shortfall, as saying that “My mind spins constantly on: How do I make this work? We may be here, or maybe after 65 years it goes away.”



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.