Commonwealth books it to Downtown Crossing

by Beacon Staff • September 16, 2009

It was a fairy tale land of books, the mind's eye image of a magical bookstore complete with a coy house cat.,In between classes or on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Emerson students used to have the option to nip into Commonwealth Books and wander a literary playground, ducking around spires of old, obscure volumes to pick out a few gems for a steal.

It was a fairy tale land of books, the mind's eye image of a magical bookstore complete with a coy house cat. But now that Commonwealth moved to Downtown Crossing after its lease expired in August, fanatics of the literary stripe must brave a short hike to visit their Narnia. The new location is 9 Spring Ln., less than a two-minute walk from its sister store at 2 Milk St., both in Downtown Crossing.

Once located between Piano Row and the Little Building at 134 Boylston St., for 16 years Commonwealth was home to thousands of well-loved books with nostalgia suffused into their musty pages. Now small, unceremonious signs in the old storefront's windows declare its unfortunate departure.

Owner Joseph Phillips said the Milk Street store holds fast to a literary tradition of Boston booksellers. Shops buying and selling used books occupied space in the State Street area as early as 1840, he said. By opening two literary grottos within yalping distance of each other, Phillips hopes to keep alive this storied book exchange area and the rich literary discussions that accompany it.

The new spot has roughly the same square footage as the old one, but instead of a two-floor labyrinth of tomes held in towering shelves which threaten to pile over at any second, all of the merchandise rests on one level.

"We tried to make it cozy here with the usual nooks and crannies," Phillips said. "People have commented on the atmosphere and its location to our annex store is working out pretty well."

While Phillips is happy with the new location, he also said he wished the shop could have stayed on Boylston.

"We're sorry we had to move out, but there is hardly anything not owned by Emerson anymore," he said. "The lease was up and we needed to make a move. There's not much you can do, you know?"

For some Emerson students, the change has made fulfilling their love of used books more difficult. Junior Rachel Shipman, a self-proclaimed book fanatic, said she was distraught to see the store empty.

"It was a little place tucked away in the middle of campus. It was nice and quiet-it felt like I was home," the writing, literature and publishing major said. "All I ever wanted was to be surrounded by books. The place was endless."

In the meantime, literary lovers with a liking for the smell of yellowed paper can walk the extra 12 minutes for a more romantic shopping experience.