Reading International Closes Shop in Square

Harvard Square, famed for its plethora of independent bookshops, lost a little of its diversity yesterday with the closing of Reading International Bookstore, a Square landmark since 1968.

The bookstore, located on the corner of Brattle and Church Streets, yesterday held an inventory clearance sale, with some books discounted by up to 50 percent.

And today, employees are packing up the remaining books to take to the store's other branch in Belmont. that branch will also close soon, according to store supervisor Tom Graves.

Reading International may be yet another victim of the recession, another in an ever-growing list of small shops to fall prey to the mall-ification of the Square, but that may be an oversimplification of the facts.

For one, discount policies offered by aggressive competitors like Wordsworth's hurt business, Graves said. And Reading International never recovered financially from expensive renovations in 1990, either.

"Bookstores just don't make a lot of money," he said. "You're always fighting to keep your head above water. If you make a few management mistakes, you're going to go under."

Also, Graves said, Reading International had changed its method of book selection by using a computer to determine the store's bestsellers, which had an unintended negative effect.

"We started to forget about those titles that you only sell one of a month, but that you need, like the Melville or the Dickens," he said.

Reading International's biggest sales came from scholarly journals and controversial books for the leftwing intelligentsia, Graves said.

"[The store's closing is] a real blow to progressivism," he said. "It's like losing an election."

The bookstore sponsored readings at Cambridge Public Library and was a supporter of local writers, Graves said.

"We had a whole wall as a 'local author' section," he said. "If you lived around here and wrote a book, we would get you in the window."

Several customers yesterday expressed dismay at the store's shutdown.

"I hate it," said Mark B. Gurley, a Harvard graduate student in religion and a regular at the store. "I hope one of the other stores will pick up all the journals that are hard to get."

Still, Gurley admitted that though he loved Reading International's atmosphere and browsed there often, he bought his paperbacks at Words-worth's. "They're cheaper", he said.