The story of the New England Mobile Book Fair may have a happy ending after all.
One day after saying financial pressures are forcing him to move the bookstore out of its longtime home in Newton Highlands, owner Tom Lyons said he’s being wooed by city officials in neighboring towns who want him to relocate there.
“I’ve heard from everybody,” said Lyons, who bought New England Mobile Book Fair five years ago but has since seen sales drop because of online retailers and changes in the publishing industry. “I’m getting calls from people who have space that they want me to look at. It’s gratifying there’s that kind of support.”
The unusual store, a 32,000-square-foot warehouse space on Needham Street, has been cherished by book lovers for more than 50 years. With its vast collection of children’s books, fiction, and just about anything else you can think of, the store has managed to succeed in the age of Amazon longer than a lot of other independent booksellers.
For example, Willow Books, a large and much-loved independent bookstore in Acton, closed last month after 20 years. Owner David Didriksen said he faced many of the same challenges as New England Mobile Book Fair and concluded it was time to do something else. In Harvard Square, meanwhile, the iconic Schoenhof’s Foreign Books is closing after 161 years, citing online competition and rising rents.
Lyons said the ease and convenience of shopping online, combined with the consolidation of the publishing industry, has made it impossible to continue to do business as usual. He said he needs to radically downsize New England Mobile Book Fair, and cull the collection, if the store has any chance of surviving.
Lyons said he’s looking for a space between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet, in a town or neighborhood with a large number of families and children.
Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who has happy childhood memories of visiting New England Mobile Book Fair with his mother, said Friday he hopes to persuade Lyons to relocate to West Roxbury.
“I’ve been a lifelong acolyte of New England Mobile Book Fair, if that’s the right word. It’s one of my favorite places and it would be the perfect complement to our business district,” said O’Malley. “If Marty Walsh can bring GE to Boston, I want to bring New England Mobile Book Fair to West Roxbury.”
He’ll have competition. Robert Orthman, of Roslindale Village Main Street, a group that promotes economic development in Roslindale, said Friday he’s already invited Lyons to look at a space in the Prescott Building, which occupies a prominent place in the village, across from Adams Park.
“It would be a perfect symbiotic relationship,” Orthman said. “It makes all the sense in the world to me.”
One thing is clear, a decision will come quickly. New England Mobile Book Fair’s lease in Newton Highlands expires at the end of the month, and Lyons said he needs to move as soon as possible.