CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — THE independent bookstore is alive and well in New England. Business is going great guns on a mid-week afternoon at Reading International in Harvard Square. There are two dozen browsers looking at everything from Dostoyevsky to Doonesbury while Italian Renaissance music plays softly from overhead. One woman dashes in breathlessly for a copy of the much-talked about Daedalus magazine which carries an article on Eastern Europe written by what is presumed to be a high official named ``Z.'' As far as the notion of independents being squeezed out by the chains, ``We haven't been talking about that for a long time,'' says Wayne Drugan, trade buyer for the 21-year old store. ``In New England, we've seen a huge expansion.'' He says his store and four others in the heavily student-populated Harvard Square area all gross over $1 million a year. ``That used to be atypical, but these have been this way for awhile.''
He attributes the success to the selection and to the service. ``It's still true, if you did a survey of bookstore personnel, that the independents have people in business longer than you usually see in the chains.''
Mr. Drugan agrees that it's often the Tom Clancy's, Danielle Steele's, and Stephen King's that support sales of smaller books. P.D. James, he says, helps him sell more of specialized lines like International Polygonis, which puts out mysteries from the '30s and '40s.
But remember, this is Harvard Square. His number one selling book in the '80s was Salman Rushdie's ``The Satanic Verses.''