Square Personality: Adam S. Hirsch

Anita B. Hofschneider

He begins by talking about his family. “My wife is Jamie and we have three kids,” he says, spelling out each name. “Our eldest, Aiden (‘e-n’) is seven. We have two girls that are five, Addison and Emerson. We live in Roslindale and for a little while now we were looking for a business to call our own.”

A clean-shaven, bespectacled man in a striped button-down shirt—salt-and-pepper hair combed neatly to one side—Adam S. Hirsch thanks the waitress at Tealuxe as she brings him his teapot. Hirsch, who, with his wife, is the new owner of The World’s Only Curious George Store, excuses himself mid-sentence to retrieve honey for the tea and napkins to dab the tea-spotted table. He picks up exactly where he left off and begins discussing the store, weaving business pitch and personal narrative in a manner that is clearly practiced, though not at all tired.

The Hirsches are preparing for the grand opening of The World’s Only Curious George Store, which will take place on Saturday, April 28. The store is located in the space once occupied by Harvard Square’s Curious George Books and Toys, which closed its doors last summer after 16 years of operation.

Neither Adam nor his wife, Jamie, had any exceptional interest in Curious George growing up. The character entered their adult lives through what Adam refers to as “the award-winning Curious George TV show.” His background is in marketing, and his allegiance to the brand comes through even in casual conversation.

Although the previous Curious George store was built in tribute to the story’s creators, H.A. and Margret Rey (who settled in Cambridge after fleeing the Nazis), it did not market itself as much more than a general children’s bookstore. With declining business and climbing rent, the previous store was forced to close, leaving many of its devoted customers to fear it was gone for good.

Then came the Hirsches. After years of working for others, the couple wanted to work for themselves. “I’ve been working for 20-plus years for other people, helping to grow businesses,” Hirsch says. “If we do well, we want to be the ones who benefit from that, and if things don’t go right, it was our decision as well. It’s really about control for our family. And hopefully that leads to more freedom. Those are two nice things to have: control and freedom.”

“A lot is at stake,” he continues, “starting with myself and my family. We’ve put everything on the line. This means everything to us.”

That the store be successful is especially crucial for Hirsch, given his three young children. “Having kids is a great motivation,” he says. “There’s no room for failure; they’re a big reason why you get up every morning and do whatever it is you need to do.”

Given that the newest incarnation of the Curious George store is both his first retail venture and one that appears similar to a business concept that did not work, Hirsch is painfully aware of the possibility of failure. There is always the chance that customers won’t come, or that the Curious George brand will not be as popular as Hirsch hopes. Hirsch, however, has a plan. He is passionate about explaining just how his new business model will work in a way that the old one could not. Going into the project, Hirsch knew that “it would be too challenging for it to be just a standalone, 100% retail bookstore.” He needed, then, to make The World’s Only Curious George Store a destination.

“This is the world’s one and only brick and mortar Curious George store,” he says. “Why not call it that?”

With the new store’s opening rapidly approaching, Hirsch is working around the clock, though he manages to stay mostly calm—at least outwardly. Entering the store, he gives what he calls the “counter-clockwise tour,” stopping along the way to introduce members of the construction team. “That’s Joe,” he says.

“Joe’s the foreman who’s been driving this effort. So if you don’t like what you see, blame Joe.”

While most construction team members paint the store in primary hues of red, blue, and yellow and install light wooden shelves, some of the builders lean on the windowsills and gaze out at rainy Brattle Street while they eat lunch. Hirsch jokes: Are they allowed to eat at Au Bon Pain when the company they work for builds Panera stores? “Isn’t it obligatory you eat at Panera?” he asks.

The next day the construction crews are gone and, besides the odd staffer running inventory checks in the dusty basement offices, Hirsch is now entirely alone in the brightly lit  store. Every few minutes, in spite of the empty shelves visible even from the outside, passersby attempt to pull open the glass doors—still locked. Finding they cannot, the would-be visitors proceed to knock and peer into the windows. Mostly, they are families with young children, clutching cameras, and presumably tourists. Hirsch greets virtually everyone himself, informing them that the store is not yet open but that it will be soon.

Turning customers away is not an annoyance but rather a pleasure for Hirsch, who hopes their interest bodes well for his new store’s success. With any luck, there will be more eager families at the grand opening on April 28 and for years to come. “Every shekel that’s going into this is from our money or money we’ve raised,” Hirsch says. “This is all of our chips on the table to make this work.”

But Hirsch wouldn’t have it any other way. “Being self-employed is where I need to be,” he says. “Probably should have been here a long time ago. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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