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North

Across the Pond

Two booksellers reach out in new economy

Bestsellers Café owner and manager Rob Dilman is back in business in Medford after a five-year hiatus.

Bestsellers Café owner and manager Rob Dilman is back in business in Medford after a five-year hiatus.

DUBLIN — Times are hard and business models are changing, but I remain convinced that no self-respecting city or town, whether in the Dublin area or around Boston, should be without a main street bookstore.

Of course, you’d expect a local columnist and self-published author to say as much.

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From the spring of 2007 until the summer of 2012, my hometown of Medford failed this test. That’s how long residents and expats like myself were without the book-lined surroundings and coffeehouse ambiance of Bestsellers Café on High Street.

The long-running saga surrounding the store’s disappearance from Medford’s retail scene has been recounted faithfully elsewhere. Suffice to say, owner and manager Rob Dilman didn’t anticipate such a lengthy break in business when his landlord decided to close the building in which Bestsellers resided for an extensive refurbishment. During that time, Dilman took on another job while keeping in touch with his former customers and recruiting new ones via social media, farmers’ markets, and school fund-raisers.

His perseverance has paid off.

When I walked into Bestsellers’ new premises last summer during a family visit, I couldn’t believe Medford’s good fortune in having such a valuable resource in the heart of the city. Of course there are the books, new and secondhand, arranged enticingly around the bright and roomy interior.

And the browsing potential is enormous, given the store’s refitted café offering a wide selection of coffees, specialty sandwiches, and soups.

What’s more, Bestsellers has become a vital hub for many local artists — storytellers, musicians, authors, and crafts makers — who regularly perform or display their wares in the store.

Another community north of Boston is just as fortunate as my hometown. A few miles up Interstate 93 in Stoneham, Dan and Deb Sullivan run The Book Oasis, an unassuming establishment specializing in secondhand books that has graced the town’s main street since 2002.

Like Bestsellers Café, The Book Oasis champions local self-published authors by holding signings and carrying their books in-store and online — no small concession to the literary little guy in this age of retail giants such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon.

(Personal disclaimer: The Book Oasis hosted the launch of my first book, accompanied by homemade scones and hot cider, on a cold December’s night in 2009.)

As well as supplying local print enthusiasts with a good read and looking after the summer reading lists of at least 20 surrounding school districts, The Book Oasis serves the broader community in other ways.

Stepping out of their book-lined comfort zone, the Sullivans assist Mission of Deeds, a nonprofit community program based in Reading and staffed by volunteers, that provides furniture, housewares, and linens to anyone trying to get back on their feet after a spell of hard luck: the loss of a home, a spouse, or a job.

Because their Stoneham store has longer hours than the Mission of Deeds office, the Sullivans can accept donations at more convenient times, year-round.

The story of these two small booksellers is not an uncommon one, I’m sure. Any number of cities and towns north of Boston have an independent bookstore in their midst that steps up to the mark in similar fashion.

In the end, though, for all their genuine value to their respective communities, places like The Book Oasis and Bestsellers Café need to turn a buck if they’re to stick around.

This is where you come in. Please think twice this Christmas season before you conclude your next online book transaction.

Within walking distance of your front door — or perhaps a short drive away should the weather acquire a wintry edge — there’s a local bookseller you should meet, face to face, who’s better than any Internet site at guiding you to an interesting title.

Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “This Thought’s On Me: A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics.” He can be reached at sbcoro@eircom.net.
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