Porter Square Books Turns Page, Goes Up for Sale

Porter Square Books Turns Page, Goes Up for Sale

  • Posted on: 31 March 2013
  • By: frank

The end of a chapter is nearing for Porter Square Books.

Two weeks ago, the successful independent bookstore at 25 White Street in Cambridge went on the selling block.

The sale is prompted by the pending retirement of co-owner Jane Dawson, who cites her age as the primary reason for stepping away from the business.

“I’ll be 70 next year and I just think it's time,” she told NeighborMedia. “We're open 94 hours a week – that's a lot. I just can’t work these hours anymore.”

Nine years ago, Dawson and a gang of other book afficianados opened the 4,500-square-foot Porter Square Books after being fired from a bookstore in Concord.

The group of six took over a Dressmart retail space at the Porter Square Shopping Center directly across the Porter Square commuter station and subway stop.

“It has worked out great. We completely changed the looks of it,” said Dawson, one of the shop’s four current co-owners. “I don't like to say it, but the shopping center felt a little sterile; it wasn’t as user-friendly. We warmed up the area and the neighborhood has completely taken us in.”

In a time when major national book stores, such as Borders Books & Music, have struggled and gone out of busines in the face of e-readers and online giant amazon.com, Porter Square Books has proven itself profitable every year since opening in 2004, Dawson said.

“Every year our sales have increased and the past two years have been the best,” she said. “We knew what we were doing.”

While e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook, may be hyped in the media, they’re not everything, Dawson insists. “I think there are lots of ways people read books.”

For example, Porter Square Books offers its customers e-books and the Kobo and Kobo Arc e-readers, but they represent a miniscule portion of sales, the co-owner said. “There are fewer independent book stores now, sure, but we know the game now; we have to be in it.”

Along with keeping up with changes in technology, other reasons exist for the success of Porter Square Books, especially in challenging economc times, Dawson said.

“I just think there’s always a place for a good neighborhood bookstore. People keep saying that people aren’t reading, but there’s a lot of interest in reading, in learning,” she said. “Granted, it’s Cambridge.”

Demographics, location, partnerships with local schools, a bustling cafe, interesting speakers and speedy book delivery are other reasons the bookstore thrives, Dawson said.

“When people say they’re so glad we’re here, we say the reason we’re here is because they’re here. Without them, we wouldn’t make it,” she said. “It’s a give and take sort of thing.”

Tracy Carver, a Harvard University fellow, visits the store from time to time.

“I’m all about shopping local, so this is a great place for me to buy a book, grab a bite to eat and just enjoy the laid-back atmosphere,” she said. “It’s too bad the store is for sale; I just hope it keeps the same vibe.”

Co-owner Dale Szczeblowski said he is hopeful that once new buyers are found the tenor of the store will remain in tact for patrons and employees alike.

“It’s hard to say until a potential buyer comes forth, but the current owners will make sure that the new owner will continue the way it’s been,” Szczeblowski said. “There will always be changes – there has to be – but a community feel will be big.”

Dawson added she hopes the future owners will keep the current staff of 15-20 employees on board. “Why would you buy a retail store and get rid of the employees?”

But Szczeblowski admits, “The store is for sale. Who stays and who goes will depend on whoever buys the store.”

The sale of Porter Square Books likely won’t go through until year’s end, Dawson said. Paul Siegenthaler of Ridge Hall Partners Inc. is handling the sale.

“When we opened our doors nine years ago, one of our goals – and I think our bottom line – was to be a community resource; a place where people can sit down, read a book and meet a friend,” Dawson said. “I think we’ve done that.”

Comments

This is a great story--thanks for covering it! You really capture the store's value, both from a business and a community perspective. This store is truly an oasis in the chaos of Porter Sq. I happened upon it a few years back while Christmas shopping and was able to find interesting gifts--not just books--for everyone on my list. Add to that the smell of fresh brewed coffee and you just can't go wrong.

I think we'll have a better chance of ensuring the store lives on as is, post-sale, if lots of patrons post comments about their experience with Porter Sq Books, and why they keep coming back...