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New England Mobile Book Fair at ‘crossroads,’ owner says

The New England Mobile Book Fair is currently located at 241 Needham St. in the Marshall's Plaza, which is due to be razed. The bookstore needs to be out by Aug. 31.
The New England Mobile Book Fair is currently located at 241 Needham St. in the Marshall's Plaza, which is due to be razed. The bookstore needs to be out by Aug. 31.Leslie Anderson

The owner of the New England Mobile Book Fair is asking for the community’s support as he seeks a new home for the long-running Newton bookseller.

Tom Lyons asked supporters in an e-mail newsletter earlier this month to contribute to an online fundraiser, which as of Monday has raised more than $3,000.

“The Book Fair needs to move to a location that has viable foot traffic and any donation to the campaign will contribute to the cash needed to move, restock, take care of our staff and take us into the future,” Lyons said.

Once a regional mainstay known for its wide, if eclectic, selection of books for sale in a cavernous space on Needham Street, the Book Fair was run for decades by members of the Strymish family before Lyons bought the business in late 2011.

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But years of online competition from Amazon have taken their toll, and in 2017, Lyons downsized from the 32,000-square-foot warehouse in Newton Highlands to a smaller, temporary space in the nearby Marshall’s Plaza. The original warehouse location was converted into a modern business space in 2019.

Now the Marshall’s Plaza property -- including the Book Fair’s location at 241 Needham St. -- is due to be razed in favor of a mixed-use development by Northland Investment Corp. that was supported by city voters in March. In his newsletter, Lyons said they need to be out by Aug. 31.

Earlier this year, Lyons was on the lookout for a new space, including in Davis Square in Somerville and Boston’s Fenway, and hoped to find a business partner or group of citizens to help save the store. Lyons also started driving for Uber to help cover costs.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only made the store’s problems worse. In the newsletter, Lyons said the Book Fair has reached a crossroads.

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“The Book Fair has been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic and we couldn’t even process on-line orders with only a few staff who had to stay safely at home,” Lyons said. “Without being able to generate income we have no revenue, but the bills keep coming in.”

The business has applied for support, including Small Business Administration federal loans and local grants, he said, but the amounts they have received aren’t enough to meet the store’s short-term needs.

In a recent interview, Lyons pointed to the personal touch the Book Fair gives customers -- something that can’t be duplicated online.

“You still have the experience of not only meeting authors and other patrons who enjoy the same genre that you do, but you still find that book that you didn’t expect to find,” Lyons said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.