Owning a bookstore is “the coolest thing imaginable,” says David Sandberg, who along with his wife, Dina Mardell, bought Porter Square Books in Cambridge, through a process Sandberg described as “serendipity.”
Longtime Cambridge residents and lifelong book lovers, the couple had no previous experience in the industry — Mardell, 52, is a former teacher and veteran volunteer at arts and educational nonprofits, including CitySprouts and the North Cambridge Family Opera, and Sandberg, 53, is an attorney, most recently at Google. Still, when Mardell read a Globe article in March about the founding owners wishing to sell Porter Square Books, she e-mailed it to Sandberg, who was in Australia on business.
“She sent it to me and asked, ‘Should we do this?’ ” Sandberg told the Globe. And I wrote back and said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Founded in 2004 by a consortium of owners, Porter Square Books quickly became a neighborhood institution, treasured for its frequent events, lively coffee bar, and smart, veteran staff. When the owners announced this spring that they were hoping to retire and sell the store, loyal customers worried about what might change.
Sandberg hopes he and Mardell can allay their fears. “We’re certainly not going in with any ideas of what needs to be changed,” he says, noting that three of the former owners plan to stay involved in the store. “The people who started the store, who built it, they’re still there. So I think that what will happen is over time we’ll learn from them, and we’ll learn from the staff.”
“My hope would be that no one who came in the store on Friday and who came in the store on Monday,” after the purchase was announced, “would think that there was a difference.”
Sandberg and Mardell weren’t the only prospective purchasers. “It was competitive to get the privilege of buying the bookstore,” he says, “since it is so locally well known and loved there were other people besides us who wanted to do it.”
“We loved the bookstore, we loved it before we thought of buying it, we love it because it’s part of the community,” Sandberg says, “but I hadn’t realized the extent to which that community was nervous about what was going to happen to it.” Despite business and economic forces that “wiped out a lot of bookstores,” Sandberg says, successful independent stores like Porter Square Books have survived and thrived because “they’ve created an experience.”
Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail .com.