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Real Books in The Digital Age at the New England Mobile Book Fair

By S. Mathur

The pundits may be proclaiming the death of print, but independent bookstores like the New England Mobile Book Fair don't seem to have heard. They're too busy selling real books and introducing the next generation to the love of reading. CEO Thomas Lyons says that "Our mission is basically to get physical books into the hands of adults and children. We especially like to see children reading books, not nooks. 45% of our business is children's books, schools and libraries."

The New England Mobile Book Fair is actually neither mobile nor a fair, but an independent bookstore located in a warehouse space in Newton MA. The name recalls the store's earliest incarnation, when the owner sold books out of the trunk of her car, and it has survived the years and numerous ownership changes. Lyons bought the store in 2011, and his first task was to reorganize the million books in the store by genre. They had been shelved by publisher earlier.

The next step was a new business model to help a real world independent bookstore survive in the age of Amazon. This has been both a labor of love and a public service. The store has a full range of books ranging from university press publications to children's non-fiction. The categories cover business, fiction, humor, westerns, mystery and thrillers, history, romance, religion and spirituality, travel, technology, poetry, classics, pets, science fiction - the entire list is music to a bibliophile's ears. Children's books include fiction for all ages, test prep, and nonfiction like atlases, history, geography, animals etc.

For any number of reasons, it is important to inculcate a love of reading from a young age. Lyons says that "Focusing on children's books is our attempt to help children learn through reading. We would like to have volunteers read to young children and have a plan to create a space in the store to do that, however we are uncertain that our landlord will allow us to stay in this warehouse environ, so we haven't put that in place yet. We do have children's authors come in and do readings, mostly for adults or middle school children."

The survival and transformation of the store has been cheered on by customers old and new. Lyons says that they need to do their bit: "The only thing we need is more customers so we can keep this huge warehouse open. We are a destination on a busy retail/industrial street. There is little walk in traffic for the store." Book lovers who are unaware of the store's existence may pass it by everyday without realizing.

Lyons and independent booksellers like him across the country have stemmed the tide of bookstore closings and since 2010, the trade organization for independent bookstores, the American Booksellers Association, reports a rise in membership and sales.

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