Interview with a Bookstore:
The Smallest Bookstore in Boston
I opened a bookstore for personal survival and to share my knowledge and love of books with my community (Jamaica Plain, Mass.). There wasn’t a dedicated independent bookstore in my neighborhood and instead of just wishing someone else would do it, I took matters into my own hands, asked for help, and made it happen. –Kate Layte (owner)
What’s your favorite section in the store?
John Cleary (bookseller): My favorite section is Fiction—the stories there are what got me hooked on books.
Katie Eelman (media and events coordinator): It’s hard to pick a favorite section, but I do love the New Arrival shelves. Seeing brand new, face-out books never fails to make me giddy with excitement.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Kate: I hesitate to say more books—because I’m awfully overwhelmed with the knowledge that I’ll never be able to read all the books currently in my store and I’m aware that there are many things that I haven’t discovered. So if you really mean infinite I would want to add an outdoor garden with lots of reading nooks, a rooftop bar with a space observatory, tumbleweeds, a small stage with blue velvet curtains for live events, a recording studio to produce and podcast our events, oh and some more practical things that I don’t currently have would be nice, like office space, a receiving area, and a dog.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Katie: We’re smaller than any other bookstore, and with only three people on the team, I think our community feels that they can get to know the shop and the people behind it. Our hope is that our neighbors learn about us, see how our tastes may align, and let us help them find new books. Because we have only 500 square feet, we simply can’t afford to stock books that we don’t like or feel excited about. I don’t know of any other bookstores that can say that.
Who’s your favorite regular?
Kate: I hate to pick favorites, but I’ve got a few. One is an older gentleman and voracious reader who spontaneously recites poetry that never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday it was Dylan Thomas upon seeing my displayed copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and last week was Wallace Stevens, upon seeing the new Banville. He’s a critical reader and will always fill me in on how a book was once he’s read it. He just read The Mare by Mary Gaitskill—he said it was “really very good. Not sentimental at all.”
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Kate: I’ve been lucky so far, nothing awful has happened—one little girl did get a paper cut from a book, she started crying loudly and her mom was trying to quiet her down as I rummaged around for Band-Aids. Then her father came into the store and started laughing that she had got a paper cut at Papercuts. I found a Band-Aid eventually, but she was disappointed it wasn’t a Hello Kitty one and cried a bit more. I’ve since gotten cooler Band-Aids.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Katie: I grew up in Doylestown, PA, an idyllic town outside of Philadelphia. Once, when I was very young, my mom took me a nearby book store for kids. When I was scolded by the bookseller for touching the books, my mom vowed never to go back, and from that point on we shopped at Doylestown Bookshop almost exclusively. She would let me spend as much time as I wanted in there, touching and smelling and stacking and restacking all of the books that caught my eye.
If you weren’t running/working at a bookstore what would you be doing?
Kate: I really like what I’m doing, but the nature of my work is that I’m interested in so many things! I’d like to study cosmology and give whale-watching tours, but I’d never want to give up slinging books. If I could combine them all somehow—that’d be ideal.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Kate: How patient, kind, compassionate, generous, supportive, and encouraging everyone has been with me during my first year. People get a bad rap—but readers? They’re the best kind of people, and I’m so happy to have met so many this past year.
Katie: The wonderful and dynamic people we’ve met! They’ve been supportive from day one and have made so many dreams a reality, including the inaugural Papercuts J.P. anthology: What Happened Here, which we’re publishing through a crowdsourcing campaign.
SLIDESHOW: Papercuts J.P. Staff Recommendations