John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and owner of the Boston Globe, has chosen to invest in another Boston-area institution. He’s taken on part-ownership of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, which has been in the book business since 1932.
Henry has long had an affinity for independent booksellers, and reached out to current owners Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson early on in the pandemic when he’d heard they were struggling during the shutdown. At the time, the couple had decided to continue paying their staffers even while the store was closed. And with the revenue gone from their litany of literary events — the store typically hosts over 450 readings a year — they were increasingly worried whether the business would survive.
“We had very few months of cash left,” said Mayersohn.
Eventually, funding from the federal government and a surge in customer support helped the bookstore regain some of its footing. But at that point, Mayersohn said talks with Henry had advanced.
“The discussions started about survival, but very quickly became about a broader vision of what independent bookstores could be,” Mayersohn said.
“It was safe to say that we were sort of kindred spirits,” Henry said. “We hit it off right away and started talking about the future of bookstores.”
Mayersohn said Henry has been an engaged partner, texting him photos and videos of independent bookstores he’s visited while traveling. And as of this week, Henry has made his first investment in the store. It is an independent investment outside of his other business ventures, and Mayersohn and Henry did not disclose a figure. But both said it would be enough to cover the costs of renovating the store’s decades-old fixtures and updating its website, which — nearly a decade old — currently doesn’t do much to help Harvard Book Store compete with other, larger, online booksellers which will remain unnamed.
Mayersohn also said that Harvard University, which is the bookstore’s landlord, has extended his lease through 2033. And while the focus now is stabilizing the existing store, the plan is to eventually expand beyond Harvard Square.
“We’ve put together a list of wonderful potential locations for bookstores, but we’re very early in that process,” was all Mayersohn would say about future sites.
Henry called owning a bookstore a challenge similar to one he took on when he purchased the Globe, and said he sees both as contributing to the civic good of the city.
“We knew [the Globe] was important for the community. It’s the same thing here,” he said. “We didn’t want to see [the bookstore] go away.”