Red Book Sells Radical Wares
Local Political Extremism: The Left
The walls are covered with red, black and yellow T-shirts reading "I hate the Capitalist system" and "Question Authority." Calendars entitled "Women Working" and "Human Rights"--rather than the standard Garfield, Ziggy and Sierra Club brands--fill the shelves. Pamphlets and fliers for forums on Women's Rights, Gay Liberation, and anti-draft colloquiums spill over all available counter space. This is no ordinary book store.
The Red Book Store, located in the residential Central Square Area, sells exclusively radical and left-wing books, pamphlets and other literature. According to co-owner Jeffrey Scott, it is "the largest book store of this kind in New England."
Founded in 1970 a few blocks away from the present address, Red Book started out as a limited-stock book store selling almost entirely communist literature. Five years later the store--which prides itself on independence from any particular left-wing movement--moved to its present location.
But in April, the shop will end its 13-year presence in the quiet section of the city. The landlord has refused to renew the lease, so the Red Book Store is moving to Jamaica Plain in April. When the store packs up and moves to its new site, it will try to make its merchandise more accessible to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. That would further the store's attempt, which started in 1975, to expand beyond communist books. The new, wide range of topics--Socialism, Anarchism, Feminism--has helped bolster business.
But Scott argues that the majority of customers "are radicals or in some way think of themselves as radicals." He notes that his customers include students and professors from area universities who request the store to order books for their courses.
Because of the store's size and what Scott considers the "unique" range of subjects, Red Book also gets business from out of state customers who make special trips to the store. "Once we had a group of tourists from Turkey, looking for books on the Turkish government," he said.
But for the most part, Scott thinks of the shop as a neighborhood store, with a large amount of business coming from "walk-in" customers from the racially and socially mixed neighborhood surrounding Central Square.
Dan Morse, who is moving to the Central Square area, says he first came to the Red Book Store four years ago for a forum on sexism, which he said had "a real impact" on him. Now Morse, who describes himself as a part-time radical, comes in search of hard-to-find left-wing literature. "I came looking for an article on Ageism [discrimination against the elderly] and I found one. There aren't many of these around," he added.
In the past, Red Book Store has held concerts, movies and forums on various topics which they have thought worthwhile, including feminism, racism and Central American solidarity. "The movies which were shown here were movies about people involved in struggle," said Scott.
Now the store carries publications, pamphlets and posters for the organization which the group of eight collective owners support. "Right now we're selling tickets for a concert by 'Sweet Honey in the Rock.' They play Afro-American gospel music with a political message," he added.
Occasionally the store's political stance and support of left-wing community groups has sparked harassment from people in the neighborhood.
Scott said that several times he and other workers have had threatening phone calls. "One time a guy called and said he was going to put a bullet through my brain," he said. In another instance vandals set fire to the door of the store. And two months ago, someone threw a smoke bomb into the main room of the store.
Nevertheless, the shop attracts a fairly loyal clientele, many of whom are upset with the impending move. Chatting with some customers, Scott explained that the book store would be replaced by a construction company.
"I could have guessed it," said one disgruntled woman. "It's a sign of the times," Scott replied subtly.