Friday, July 12, 2024

A browser in Rodney’s Bookstore in Cambridge’s Central Square on Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Harvard Square will barely have time to mourn the departure of Raven Used Books before it celebrates the return of Rodney’s Bookstore, the used-books seller that closed in Cambridge’s Central Square in October 2020. (Update on Aug. 17: A sign outside the shop location says Rodney’s opens Sept. 1.)

The swap of bookstores was announced Saturday by Elliott Reinert, librarian of the Christian Science Reading Room in Harvard Square that owns the building and leases out its space at 23 Church St. Raven has been its tenant since 2015, but book seller John Petrovato said in May that he would close there to focus his business in Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts.

Raven’s last day selling is Sunday, though Reinert said the Christian Scientists expected Raven to take a couple more weeks of being closed to the public while Petrovato packs up what remains.

Rodney’s owner Shaw Taylor confirmed the outlines of the deal on Saturday, saying his moving into the Raven location was “90 percent certain” but required a lease signing. “I trust them and they trust me,” Taylor said. “This is going to be an asset to the community.”

Reinert agreed, saying there was at least one other excellent and admired business vying for the rental space, but that keeping its use as a bookstore felt right. 

“We like to think of it as an outfolding of good, something very natural,” Reinert said. “There’s a quote from Matthew – ‘Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’”

Knew he’d be back

The closing of Rodney’s was announced in August 2020, but Taylor said he’d known since that January – before the arrival of the Covid pandemic – that his lease at 698 Massachusetts Ave. would end. The location has become a bank branch, which was expected to pay the landlord more than a used bookstore.

Taylor always said he’d be back – ideally somewhere in Cambridge, he said at the time while acknowledging the challenge of matching the qualities of his spot in Central Square: “It’s large, it’s got good visibility, it’s close to the T.”

Check-ins with Taylor as the years passed showed the difficulty of finding the “good spot” he wanted. When he saw a news report in May that Raven was leaving, he came in to ask if the space was rented yet and got directed to the Reading Room next door. “I happened to be there when he came in,” Reinert said. “Some people would call it in serendipity.”

Expecting a fast swap

Taking over the Raven spot would put Rodney’s back near the T in an area historically famous for its bookstores, though the Harvard Square location is about one-third the size of the original Rodney’s. It means the new Rodney’s won’t sell the variety of goods that the massive old one did, though the high ceilings lend themselves well to bringing back racks of posters to sell, Taylor said. A cellar will allow for keeping a stock of books on hand for re-shelving, even if everything can’t be displayed at one time.

The space is also move-in ready, and a deal to keep Raven’s shelving could speed the process significantly.

If all goes well, Rodney’s will be selling used books in Harvard Square by Labor Day at the latest, Taylor said. That would mean only around a month’s gap between book sales on Church Street.

By an estimate of Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, that’s around the time The Painted Burro restaurant is expected to open across the street, replacing a Border Cafe closed since a fire on Dec. 1, 2019. As a used bookstore replaces another used bookstore, a Mexican restaurant will replace a Mexican restaurant.