Iconic New England bookstore up for sale.

After 50 years, original owners decide to put Newton’s iconic Mobile Book Fair up for sale
by Erica Noonan
NEWTON — New England’s largest independent bookstore looks more like a warehouse than a bookhouse, sprawling in a low-slung building behind a row of stores off busy Needham Street. But now the New England Mobile Book Fair, a destination for suburban booklovers for more than a half-century, faces an uncertain future.
Yesterday, the family that founded the store in a West Roxbury storefront in 1957 and moved it to Newton in 1964 announced it would put the local institution up for sale. The Strymish family cited several factors, including family health reasons, for the decision. The next owner of the Book Fair will probably be someone who is “emotional and passionate’’ about books, “because no hard numbers guy lacking soul and passion is likely to buy a bookstore,’’ said Paul Siegenthaler, whose firm, Ridge Hill Partners Inc. of Needham, is exploring a possible sale. Steve Gans, Book Fair general counsel and chief operating officer, said Siegenthaler was selected because of his track record of twice shepherding beloved Boston-area independent bookstores into the care of committed new owners. The pressures on bookstores, especially independent ones, have been well documented. In the past year, small bookstores in Belmont, Lexington, and Cambridge all shut their doors, citing lost business from online book sales, the recession, and other industry factors. Gans said the decision to go public with the possibility of a sale yesterday, before the holiday season, was deliberate. Retail announcements in January are often seen as a sign that a business is distressed, and he said that is not the case with the Book Fair. Yesterday, Gans was interviewing candidates for a full-time bookselling job, and he emphasized that the store may be considering changing hands, but has no intention of going out of business. “We were concerned that if we waited to announce, there would be the wrong inference’’ about the store’s future, Gans said yesterday. “We have a great relationship with the community, and people have visceral feelings about the Book Fair. That is because of the amazing loyalty and constituency we have here.’’ Yesterday, customers reacted to the news about the store — famous for its book-loving staff, eclectic layout, and steep discounts — with a mixture of curiosity and dismay. “This store is a real treasure, so I hope whoever gets it next is a book lover and good businessman,’’ said Jill Reurs of Watertown, who was doing some early holiday shopping yesterday with her mother, Mary Ann Parker of Cambridge. The mother-daughter duo have frequented the Book Fair for more than 40 years, since Reurs was a child. “I know this is the age of electronics and iPads and Blackberries,’’ said Reurs. “But if you have a blackout, you have nothing but a hunk of plastic.’’
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