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On Friday, Sept. 30, Beacon Hill Books and Cafe opened on Boston’s famed Charles Street. It is the first new bookstore to open in the neighborhood in nearly 30 years. A visit to the bookstore on its opening day revealed that it seeks to be more than just a regular business, curated and decorated with magic in mind.
Only one hour after opening, the store was abuzz with customers exploring its nooks and crannies. Children inspected the books, patrons chatted with the staff, and many posed for selfies in front of photogenic displays.
It’s clear that every inch of the space was meticulously designed. The first and second floors give the impression of being a tailored apartment more than a retail space. Towering bookcases painted in pale blue line the walls and tables display catered selections of novels. Fresh flowers adorn the mantle of a crackling fireplace. Scattered throughout the store are small chairs that invite patrons to sit and start a book.
The third floor, dedicated to children and young adult readers, seems to draw the most attention from visitors. A gleaming red button rests on the wall with the words “PRESS ME.” When one obliges, a steam engine whistles to life and appears atop the bookshelves. A tiny squirrel — Paige, the store’s mascot — sits in the conductor’s car. Beside the fire, tiny chairs surround a miniature tea set. Nearby, a small child-sized door with a gold knocker invites young visitors to walk through and peruse the books.
The magical qualities of the store were apparent to its visitors. Two customers browsing amongst the shelves, Nikki Stone and Kass Aitken, commented on their experience in the store. “It’s so cute!” said Stone.
Aitken compared entering the store to “an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ experience. Walking in that door from the street was pleasantly delightful,” Aitken said. It indeed feels like entering a new world, engineered to entice.
In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, the store’s owner, Melissa Fetter, revealed the inspiration behind its design: “I worked with wonderful architects, local architects — Pauli & Uribe Associate Architects — and an interior designer named Cathy Kincaid, and then I have a great passion for aesthetics and interiors,” said Fetter. “I think retail businesses that thrive in this day thrive because you make the space so compelling that people will choose to come into the store to make the purchase, rather than do what is more convenient and order online from that company whose name must not be mentioned. You have to make it really fun for people to come in. And so that's what we've done.”
Fetter is new to the world of running a small business, but she is confident that her background gives her the experience necessary to make Beacon Hill Books and Cafe work.
“I worked at JPMorgan for many years and then spent 20 years doing a lot of philanthropic work chairing different art museum boards, you know, very active in the community,” she said. “But somehow all of those experiences come together in a way that I feel prepares me to be a small business operator. And because I don't have a background in retailing or bookselling, it means that I've been able to approach everything with very fresh eyes and look at it through the view of the consumer.”
The space promises to be a source of attraction for tourists in the city, and locals are just as excited about the opening of a new business. One resident, Erin Buechele, said, “I live right down the street, and every single day when I walk down Charles I peek in, and I’m just thrilled. I love independent bookstores and I think that everyone should support them. And, I’m excited for the cafe to open.”
The cafe that Buechele mentions will soon be open for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. Fetter estimates that the space will be ready within a couple of weeks.
Although the bookstore and cafe are located in Beacon Hill, Fetter made it clear that it is a space for both those in and outside of the neighborhood:
“This is a bookstore for all of Boston and for people traveling to Boston. Our curation of books and the programming that we will offer are inclusive and welcoming of everyone,” she said. “And I hope that your readers will find that we’re a good excuse to come across town to enjoy all that Beacon Hill and the neighboring area have to offer.”
The store offers a space for students looking to enjoy books in a comfortable atmosphere, too. Fetter hopes that it will rekindle the magical experience that reading can bring.
“I want to inspire a lifelong love of reading. I think it's so critically important. And I think we can kind of do that: We can make it fun, we can let people in, and then they can find out on their own. What a gift it is to read,” she said.
Beacon Hill Books and Cafe is located at 71 Charles Street. When its cafe officially opens, it will be announced on the store’s Instagram page, @beaconhillbooksandcafe.
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