Back Bay

As brand stores proliferate, the Back Bay loses a treasured bookstore
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 McCaffrey.

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.

Vincent 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 who can’t.”

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.

-page 2 Closing in Fasion-

Articles

Article 1

Back Bay’s changing storefronts

  -In every city
-A community for tourists?

Article 2

Back Bay loses a treasured bookstore

 

-Closing in
fashion

-Old friends

-Moving online

-A quote from Vincent

Links

Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop

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