Help them fight COVID-19
Just a month ago, the novel coronavirus was the last thing on my mind—I never imagined it would contain the power or relentlessness to interrupt my routine shifts at Raven Used Books in Harvard Square. Even the immediate changes I noticed as the number of U.S. cases started rising—our bottle of hand sanitizer emptying at a faster pace, the plethora of newly purchased cleaning products piling up under the desk, and the way everyone in the store evacuated after hearing one person sneeze—did not cause me to panic.
The seriousness of COVID-19 finally hit me two weeks ago on what I expected to be a usual Saturday morning. Instead, Harvard Square felt like a ghost town, filled with open businesses so empty that it seemed as though their employees forgot to unlock the doors. I walked past numerous signs made with computer paper and permanent markers explaining the introduction of limited hours or take-out options only. Some places remained closed, displaying bold-lettered notices stating, “Due to safety concerns, we will see you when this nightmarish hellscape is over,” or something along those lines.
When I unlocked the door at Raven, I was a little disheartened, but still turned around the open sign in the window and went about shelving our newest titles and singing along to the Beatles album I chose for that morning. Yet that sign appeared invisible for the first few hours of the day and no one heard a single track of the first three albums I played.
It scared me to only see one customer an hour, to watch local businesses shut down as a preventative measure or due to a lack of foot traffic, and to witness people grabbing door handles with the end of their sleeves and buying enough toilet paper to be singlehandedly responsible for wiping out an entire forest.
The reality of what was happening sank in like quick sand, and our most reliable customers began to say things like, “I’m stocking up on reading materials because this is probably the last day I will be coming in until this is over.” Others asked, “Can you recommend a book that will make sense of this disaster?,” or, “Will you help me find a book that will distract me from this mess?”.
Despite how sad I felt when Raven announced its temporary closure, my comfort came from those last few customers I spoke with who were stocking up on books or asking for recommendations. Not only were they seeking out literature for an explanation, distraction, or consolation, but they were coming to us, giving love to our small space overstuffed with books that have been read before but deserve to be read again.
I’ve known many of our regulars for years now, indulging in countless conversations about why they majored in physics and minored in anthropology or whether their family dog is named after Bertrand Russell or Leon Russell, and I hope the books they selected are getting them through quarantine by providing clarification or an escape.
The experience that independent bookstores give through personal interactions and unique titles help to make a city like Boston a home. As I remain in quarantine, I miss seeing our regular customers everyday, relating to strangers on the topic of sixties music or beat poetry, and having conversations that give me insight into something I was embarrassingly clueless about.
Suddenly, many of us have uninterrupted hours to read, and places like Raven, Harvard Book Store, Grolier Poetry, Rodney’s Bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, Brattle Book Shop, Commonwealth Books, Porter Square Books, and Trident Booksellers and Café rely on support from locals to stay afloat. Until we can all return to public spaces, independent bookstores all over the city are selling online, posting social media updates, and hoping their customers will return to their shelves when this pandemic has passed.
If you can, continue to support local bookstores, for many are wondering whether they will make a full recovery from COVID-19. Keeping these businesses alive ensures that we will be free to wander through familiar aisles of books again once the world has healed, an experience that is very much essential to our city.