Friday, July 19, 2024

Mila Hossain at the storefront of the future Narrative bookstore in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Mila Hossain)

When Mila Hossain landed on Long Island at 11 years old, having just immigrated with her family from Dhaka, Bangladesh, she dealt with isolation and loneliness as she struggled to find her place in a new country. Her refuge? Books.

Twenty years later, she’s opening her own bookstore. Hossain hopes to open Narrative’s doors to the public at the start of March, if all goes to plan.

Narrative, at 387 Highland Ave., will fill the storefront of Swank Seconds, a thrift and consignment store that closed last fall. Narrative also fills a longer-lasting void: Davis Square hasn’t had a bookstore for more than 15 years, since McIntyre & Moore closed in 2008.

“I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t already a bookstore here,” said Hossain, who moved to Somerville last March from Denver.

Similarly, it was just Nov. 10 that Union Square got a bookstore, as All She Wrote relocated to 75 Washington St., near the East Somerville MBTA stop on the green line, after leaving the rising rents of Assembly Square.

Hossain, now 31, studied English literature at UCLA, then moved to Denver to work with struggling schools and to mentor students with high-level needs through AmeriCorps’ City Year program. After she shifted into event planning and sales in corporate hospitality, the pandemic hit. Her team was furloughed, then let go. That inspired Hossain to make a change.

“I was facing a lot of turmoil between losing my job and my dad’s recent passing, and it made me reflect on my life and what I wanted to do with it,” Hossain said. “At the same time, in this period of grief and depression, I kept finding myself gravitating back toward books.”

Opening a bookstore had always felt like a dream – until Hossain and her fiancée moved to Davis Square and she saw a “for lease” sign on her way to the bank one day in December.

Acquiring the space was the first step. Getting the bookstore open has been more of an undertaking. (Hossain has taken to Instagram to share her progress, and if the comments are any indication, Davis Square is ready for its bookstore.)

Hossain has spent the past couple of months renovating the barely 600-square-foot space, acquiring bookshelves and furniture and tackling what she called her “most difficult but most fun task”: choosing what books to stock.

The store will include fiction and nonfiction and used books with an emphasis on works that uplift minority and marginalized voices, Hossain said. She’s also taking into consideration what residents of Davis Square and the surrounding communities might like to see, conducting polls and seeking advice from experienced booksellers and others.

By tapping into others’ opinions, Hossain is starting to execute a large part of her mission with Narrative: to engage with her community.

“Since it’s a one-woman show, I want to focus on really curating the stock and being able to provide what [people] need in a more personal way,” Hossain said. “It’s really important to me to make this bookstore personal to the community and be able to provide a community hub for everyone.”=

The name of the store is inspired in part by that desire.

“The narrative is such an important aspect of our lives: the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we grow up hearing inform who we become and how we connect to each other and the world around us,” Hossain said. “But also, we’re in control of our own narratives. Starting this bookstore is me taking control of my narrative, as well as my attempt to be a positive part of the narrative of this town.”

Hossain has spent her life moving: 11 years in Dhaka, eight years on Long Island, four years in California and seven years in Colorado leading to (almost) one year in Somerville.

When she moved to America, she found “most of her sense of belonging in books.”

“I fell in love with the public library,” Hossain said.

Now, less than a year into making Somerville her fifth home, she’s finding her sense of belonging in books again.

“Integrating myself into this community is an important aspect of feeling like this is home,” Hossain said. “I’m hoping the bookstore will help me do that.”


Feature image by Hui-En Lin.