As brand stores proliferate, the Back Bay loses a
By Will Albright
|On Memorial Day of 2004, Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop will
close after 29 years.
The Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop has always called Back Bay its
home. But after 29 years of service to its customers, it will be
forced to shut its doors for good this Memorial Day.
The bookstore, a Back Bay institution, could not keep up with
increasing rents and taxes, and eventually lost customers in an
increasingly alien environment of corporate chain stores taking
over Newbury Street.
Owner Vincent McCaffrey opened the store in 1975
with blood, sweat and tears. “I renovated the old building as best I could
by hand. I built the first shelf and bought the first books,” said
This bookstore is no Barnes and Noble, no Borders.
It deals in used and rare books – some first or second
editions. The handcrafted shelves are home to many authors who
have no place
in super-sized bookstore chains.
No security guards greet you at the door of the
Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop. The new Harry Potter book isn’t on sale for
30 percent off. You can’t buy a mocha-chino to suck down
while you peruse Oprah Winfrey’s recommended list of books
and stroll down columns of mass-produced symmetrical bookshelves.
Instead, customers are greeted with an aroma of
old books and antique wood shelves. A “Hello, can I help you today?” makes
customers feel welcome. A colorful hand-painted mural tells them
to head upstairs, where they scan the rows of shelves that stand
13 feet tall. Each shelf looks like it was made as the store needed
more space to store books.
McCaffrey’s patience knows no bounds when it comes
to helping a customer select a book.
The employees of Avenue Victor Hugo know their
books and authors. They care about reading and the status of
books in the modern day,
and partially blame the store’s closing on people’s
lack of interest in reading.
Mark Twain’s words rest above the cash register: “A
man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man
When a customer asks where a book is, he or she
is whisked upstairs into the tightly-knit rows of books neatly
stacked in alphabetical
order by author and category. Employees won’t check the computer,
but will lead a customer to the book and all its neighboring volumes
that quietly scream “pick me up next!”
“If you liked that book then should look at this one, or
try this author out,” an employee will say when you ask about
a specific title.
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