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Browsing for bargains in Boston's bookstores

By Brad OwensStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 1, 1980


Boston's reputation as an intellectual center had early beginnings, and its bibliophiles have long supported the city's numerous and diverse lot of booksellers.

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The Old Corner Bookstore (School and Washington Streets) is now a small museum, but bookselling on that corner began in 1829 with the Carter & Hendee bookstore. Later owners William D. Ticknor and James T. Fields published the works of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, Stowe, and others, establishing the first body of American literature. First editions of some of those famous volumes remain on display here.

While the O.C.B. is no longer in the bookselling business, there are plenty of bookstores nestled in most of the historic areas of Boston and Cambridge which are worth going out of your way for. Because of their volume, prices, special subjects, or (best reason of all) their charm, these are some of the best:

Goodspeed's (18 Beacon), established in 1898, is the closest heir to the O.C.B. and, by now, the oldest continuous bookstore in Boston. The Beacon Street store specializes in rare books, prints, and autographs and anyone who might be intrigued by Grover Cleveland's signature, Audubon prints, or 18 th-century maps of Boston will enjoy browsing. The other location (2 Milk Street) stocks a good selection of used hardbacks. The shelves are neatly organized and the atmosphere, befitting tradition, is reverentially quiet. "Anything that's a book" is their motto and that covers the spectrum from rare books to the volumes selling for 25 and 50 cents apiece.

A Curious Bookshop (51 Bromfield) is a general used bookstore (they say "out-of-print books") that carries mostly hardbacks. Narrow aisles, a steep stairway, books towering overhead and a comfortable mixture of chaos and order give this place its charm. Some rare and first editions are sold here and the sections of poetry, literature, Boston-New England, and travel books are especially good. Upstairs there are floor-to-ceiling books, folding chair, and classical music on the radio.

The Brattle Book Shop (25 West Street) was a Boston institution until a fire destroyed the shop and some 400,000 volumes in early February. Now it's reopened a few doors down with a stock of 15,000 used books still being labeled and shelved. It's worth a visit just to talk to owner George Gloss or take advantage of used paperbacks 3 for $1.

Starr Book Company (37 Kingston) is at the edge of Boston's Chinatown. Its one floor has 15- foot-high ceilings, about 100,000 used books and just enough room for a few customers. The books are shelved high, but the're organized and the labyrinth of side aisles make it a good place to lose yourself in thought. Specialties are American and English literature, with some interesting children's books as well.

Beacon Hill's Victorian architecture, gas streetlamps, and 19th-century ambiance gives it a charm that carries over to its sub-sidewalk bookshops. The Book Exchange (85 Charles) is like being in someone's cozy low-ceilinged book-jammed dormitory room. The small shop carries recent titles and used paperbacks, and gives credit in exchange for used paperbacks and some hard covers. The Book Store Inc. (76 Chestnut) is a little more elegant but no less cozy. The shop carries new books, with the performing arts and children's books well represented. A special attraction is that the shop requires only the cost of postage as a deposit for special orders.