“We’ve had a really amazing run,” said Terri Schmitz, owner of the store since 1985. “I’ve spent 37 years rubbing shoulders with the books I love, getting get to know a wonderful community. It’s sad to have to go, but I’m proud of the work we’ve done.
On Saturday, nationally recognized as Independent Bookstore Day, the store’s influence in the community was on full display. The once overflowing shelves, faded with age, quickly thinned out as long-time customers filled their arms with as many books as they could carry. Children sat on the floor, held tightly by their parents, listening intently to grand fictional tales. Schmitz exchanged a hug with a man who had grown up frequenting the store.
“Every time I read to my daughter,” he said, “I will think of you.”
Gazing at a shelf full of picture books about American historical figures, JoAnn Butler’s eyes filled with tears. She had been a regular at the store since working at the nearby Brookline Public Library between the early 1980s and 2000, stopping to pick up books for her children and grandchildren. She had no idea the store was closing until she saw a sign in the storefront while walking around Saturday afternoon.
“When I saw the sign my heart broke right there,” said Butler, who lives in Dorchester but often visits Brookline. “It’s one of the last children’s literature shops. You can’t even describe what it means to lose a place like this.
She exchanged a long hug with Schmitz before leaving the shop for the last time.
Before the pandemic hit, business here was good, Schmitz said. In a 2010 article, the Globe hailed the store as “a beacon for young readers (and their teachers and parents). Bright, cheerful and chock-full of new and classics. Generations of parents and children have browsed, enchanted by the personalized touch of Schmitz, who made a habit of ordering personalized books for any customer who requested it.
For about 25 years, the shop sponsored a Brookline Public Schools Poetry Contest, displaying the winners in the store window for passers-by to see.
When the pandemic hit, the store temporarily closed, reopening six months later with the help of $30,000 raised through a GoFundMe. But the store’s steady stream of regular customers used to never come back, and revenue was low without a strong online book selling platform. Finally, Schmitz said, “I looked at the numbers and it was just too obvious. We couldn’t stay open like this.
Overall, independent bookstores have thrived during the pandemic, pivoting to complement in-store sales with e-commerce and capitalizing on a renewed interest in reading, said Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Book. Sellers Association. Stores that cater to a niche, however, have struggled, she said.
“Independent bookstores are doing better now than they have in a long time,” Ineson said. “But in the age of online retail where you can get whatever you want at any time, or in the age of big box retailers where you can stop and get whatever you need , having a specialized company is an extreme challenge. The children’s book store had an amazing run and they benefited greatly from a community that loved what they did.
Indeed, it was the community that for decades supported this beloved store that mourned its loss on Saturday.
Ann Abrams had been going there to find books since she moved to Brookline Village in 1996. As she browsed the shelves on Saturday, she lamented the loss of a local jewel that offered a personalized touch.
“I’ve always thought that buying hardcover books was an investment in my kids and also in our community,” Abrams said. “The intelligence, warmth, friendliness and knowledge of a human being is always better than an algorithm.”