Reckless Reader: Brookline Booksmith
By Miranda Hellmold-StoneSeptember 26, 2021
When Marshall J. Smith, Brookline Booksmith’s first owner, opened the store as “Paperback Booksmith” in 1961, he came up with the slogan "Dedicated to the fine art of browsing." Sixty years later, this slogan is the driving force behind Brookline Booksmith’s longevity. In conversation with Lisa Gozashti, who co-owns and manages the store with Peter Win, Gozashti stressed the importance of Smith’s slogan. Though Brookline Booksmith is a business, Gozashti wants to ensure they remain true to their slogan and provide a place where community members can pursue their whims, even without making a purchase, saying that “part of what we do every day is meet longing.”
Upon opening Brookline Booksmith’s doors, Smith was set on making sure all voices were represented. He wanted to create a home for everyone, and provide a place of refuge to both customers and those passing through. When asked about Brookline Booksmith’s core tenants today, Gozashti immediately listed them as “enlightenment, love, restoration, home, [and] family." As Brookline Booksmith continuously evolves, Gozashti aims to honor the voices of the people in their community and those who enter. She wants Brookline Booksmith to reflect the world that actually exists, to promote diversity, and to continuously prioritize "recklessly recreating ourselves." As they pursue this path, they seek to serve rather than gain. Indeed, Brookline Booksmith is much like a garden, with each table a plot nourished by the community, created to meet their needs.
Gozashti came to Brookline Booksmith in 1999, after a friend in a publishing course she was taking suggested she work there. Before interviewing, it had never occurred to Gozashti to work at a bookstore, and she was initially resistant to the idea. But Gozashti fell “crazy and maniacally in love with the work,” discovering her true calling. In her current role as head merchandiser, she loves helping people find the perfect fit, whether it means walking away with one book or ten.
During Gozashti’s 22 years at the Massachusetts-based store, Brookline Booksmith has grown, but never lost sight of their mission. Over the past 60 years they’ve only ingrained themselves deeper into the community, frequently collaborating with local organizations to raise money and build libraries. Though their staff has grown to number about 40, they’ve remained a union store dedicated to caring for their community. There have even been four staff weddings during Gozashti’s tenure!
When the pandemic hit, the local community immediately raised money to cover everyone’s salaries, and flocked to the membership program they established, which now has 700 members and counting! They also re-designed their website to better reflect their physical store and moved their acclaimed event series online, named the 2019 Best Literary Series by Boston Magazine, which includes their widely-lauded Transnational Literature Series. Upon re-opening their doors, they had tearful reunions with regulars who had stopped by the store every day before the onset of the pandemic, and had the busiest holiday season since first opening in 1961, allowing them to raise $41,000 for the Brookline Food Pantry.
What’s next for Brookline Booksmith? Right now, customers are flocking towards their anniversary booklist, which features each year’s best-selling book. Beginning with 1961’s bestseller The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and ending with 2020’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, their collection reflects the many genres their patrons seek out. They are also planning future collaborations with other bookstores, with Gozashti noting that it is“time for leaders to think together in new ways.” Plus, to top off their anniversary celebrations, Brookline Booksmith will be hosting a pop-up food and bar area with wife-and-husband team Katrina Jazayeri and Joshua Lewin in September in their recently expanded cooking area. One of Gozashti’s passion projects has been to expand the cookbook selection, and as cookbook sales rose during the pandemic, Brookline Booksmith began selling cookware and spices. The forthcoming pop-up will hopefully be the first of many as Brookline Booksmith continues to expand to meet the desires of their community.
All images courtesy of Liz Linder.
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