After a speedy Acela trip to the grim Route 128 station, I was picked up by Steve, who set up the tour and is, as always, an entertaining and informative guide. We immediately headed to Wellesley, a beautiful and wealthy Boston suburb that’s home to Wellesley College–and Wellesley Books.
The store was bought in 2010 by Gillian and Bill Kohli from Marshall Smith, the bookseller entrepreneur extraordinaire who founded, among other ventures, the Booksmith chain. (As Wellesley Booksmith, the store opened in 1999 in an old Lauriat’s space. Smith is still part owner of Brookline Booksmith in nearby Brookline. More on that store below.) Gillian Kohli has a background in engineering and law and is president of Wellesley Books. Bill Kohli is a portfolio manager at Putnam Investments.
Manager Jeremy Solomons, who started at Wellesley Books at the beginning of the year, showed us around the store. Jeremy is thoughtful, entertaining, English, has a background in theater and literature and has bookstore experience from working holiday seasons at Changing Hands, Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., where his sister- and brother-in-law, Gayle Shanks and Bob Sommer, are owners. (In a bit of serendipity, Gayle recommended last winter that Jeremy have coffee with Steve to sound him out about possible bookstore jobs in New England. At the time, Steve didn’t know of any, but right afterward, he heard about the position open at Wellesley Books–and the rest is history.)
Under the Kohlis, Wellesley Books has undergone a pleasant facelift. A striking change involved the space above the bookcases around the walls of the store, which now features rolling hills set apart from the wall with outlines of a skyline on the wall and figures walking and reading. (See photo.) The dead space wasn’t large enough for posters, and the store wanted to forgo using it as storage. Another “innovation”: Solomons had the many random dead tubes in the overhead light fixtures replaced with working ones, which brightened the store considerably. Sometimes it pays simply to look up.
Befitting a wealthy suburb, the store sells “lots of fiction and hardcovers,” Solomons said, and it’s renowned for its high level of customer service and friendly, knowledgeable staff, many of whom have worked at the store for years. At lunchtime on a weekday, the store was busy, and many of the customers and staff seemed to know each other by name, adding to the home-away-from-home feel of this store.
Wellesley Books has a strong events program. Events are held in downstairs space (where remainders and some used books are located) or in local middle schools. In late May, “Cassandra Clare in conversation with Jodi Picoult” drew 300 people, and in February an appearance by friends and family of the late Esther Earl, whose memoir is This Star Won’t Go Out, drew 400. Downstairs, the store features used books and a few remainders.
Another striking program at Wellesley Books is the men’s book club run by co-owner Bill Kohli, which seems to have discovered the magic both for getting men to read fiction and to join a book club. Called Bill’s Book Club for Guys, the club regularly draws 20-30 men and costs $25, which includes a copy of the book and “libations”: beer, wine or single malt whiskey. The club has discussed, among other titles, A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Headlong by Michael Frayn and, not surprisingly, Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories. The September meeting’s pick is The Son by Philipp Meyer.
The rest of the artilce http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=2291#m24882 also talks about the amazing Brookline Booksmith