What were once rich sections of books on African, Asian and Latin American history are now wall-to-wall Harvard T-shirts. The old section of US History is filled with Harvard T-shirts and Harvard plaid flannel nightgowns. The theater section, which was particularly deep on Shakespeare, was replaced with a wall of teddy bears wearing Harvard T-shirts. Where the poetry was, there are embossed wallets that say “Harvard”, mouse pads and iPhone cases that say “Harvard” and key chains hanging from tiny frogs, lobsters, elephants and eagles. plush toy all wearing tiny T-shirts that say “” Harvard. “
Popular and classical music books have been replaced by metal cups; the ramp that leads the golf ball into the cup says “Harvard”, then it says “Harvard” again inside the cup, as if the ball might have been disoriented during the one-inch trip down the ramp and that he had to be reminded where he is. There are Harvard shot glasses and spoons, Harvard water cords and bottles, Harvard medallions and lapel pins and coasters. The old children’s books section is now a children’s sweatshirt and t-shirt section, with a single children’s book table titled âFor Your Future Freshmanâ. There are still a few books downstairs, mostly books on how to get into Harvard.
The old Coop was a complete four-story bookstore, functionally and symbolically aligned with what is arguably America’s largest university. And the selection was atypical and eclectic, with many works from small presses and university presses.
Now, to find the books, you have to climb to the second and third floors, where each section is a shrunken, disheartening version of itself.
By its architecture and location, the Coop is Harvard Square’s flagship store. He served not only the Harvard community, but also the very bookish city of Cambridge. It’s now a souvenir stall – a tourist trap designed to quickly make money for people just passing by. Harvard is nothing more than a logo.
It is questionable whether the coronavirus pandemic has called for drastic cuts. But many bookstores have found ways to maintain and even increase their activity during the pandemic; the Association of American Booksellers reports that 55% of independent bookstores have higher sales today than in 2019, and that bookstore sales in June 2021 were the best since 2013. Cambridge’s other two major bookstores, the Harvard Book Store and Porter Square Books, appear to be booming. The objective of the renovation of the Coop, according to a corporate press release from Barnes & Noble, the longtime manager of the store, is expected to deliver “a better and more exciting shopping experience for customers” which “now offers a wide selection of high quality Harvard branded clothing and merchandise, as well as manuals, books of commerce and school supplies â.
La Coop already had a large sweatshirt store, located at the corner of the main building. It’s still there, still open, filled with some of the same sweatshirts and t-shirts and others labeled “Harvard Law School,” “Harvard Business School,” “Harvard Graduate School of Design,” “Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health âandâ Harvard Extension School â. On a recent afternoon, several staff members folded up t-shirts and sweatshirts, but no customers are in sight.
There didn’t seem to be many customers in the old bookstore either. The renovated Coop is a shame and a parody. They replaced a knowledge center with a merchandise store that trivializes and trivializes the pitfalls of learning. There is a lonely quote on the wall by Gertrude Stein (Radcliffe class of 1898): âTo me writing and reading are synonymous with existence. It seems more likely that if she had walked around this place and looked around she would have said, âA sweatshirt is a sweatshirt is a sweatshirt.
Joan Wickersham is the author of “The Suicide Index” and “The News from Spain”. His column appears regularly in the Globe.