scorecardresearch Skip to main content

This building on the Freedom Trail turns 300 next year — but some think it’s just a Chipotle

The Old Corner Bookstore, Boston’s oldest commercial building, now houses a Chipotle Mexican Grill outlet.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Tourists have been known to almost miss it. And it would be hard to fault them — it’s hiding in plain sight.

The Old Corner Bookstore, an iconic landmark along the Freedom Trail that once helped the city’s literary scene flourish, is now home to a Chipotle Mexican Grill, where long lunch lines snake out the door.

But Historic Boston Inc., a nonprofit group whose goal is to identify and redevelop historic sites throughout the city, hopes to change that. The group wants to bring greater awareness to the centuries-old structure downtown, and highlight the many successes of Boston’s oldest commercial building.


With the bookstore building’s 300th anniversary fast approaching next year, members from Historic Boston and its Council of Advisors — a mix of former board members, donors, and advocates — met recently to discuss ways to “re-envision” the property.

“One thing we have been contemplating for a while now is the future of the bookstore, and how we should be thinking about it,” said Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of Historic Boston.

Built in 1718, the Old Corner Bookstore sits at the corner of Washington and School streets. It’s part of a cluster of properties owned by the group and has had an array of occupants over the years, ranging from a publishing company to a shop and office space leased by The Boston Globe.

During a panel discussion at its June 21 meeting, attendees heard ideas about how Historic Boston could better present the building to the public in terms of preservation, so its place in Boston’s history is not forgotten, even as it retains its current tenants.

Because the building lacks obvious signage, it can leave people who are exploring the Freedom Trail “struggling to understand its age and deep associations with Boston’s literary pre-eminence,” according to a recap of the group’s meeting.


“There is one small interpretive sign on the side of the building, and it’s so small that you could easily pass it by, and maybe even not see it from a distance,” Kottaridis said. “And if you happen to go by it, you may not register that it’s the Old Corner Bookstore.”

Kottaridis said at one point it was obvious that the Old Corner Bookstore was a bookstore.

But as its use shifted over time to adapt to the downtown community, that’s changed.

“If you say ‘Old Corner Bookstore,’ a younger group will look at you like, ‘Where’s that?,’ Kottaridis said. “But if you say ‘Chipotle,’ they know right away.”

The Old Corner Bookstore. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe staff/file

The goal is to keep its modernized uses while also recalling the past.

At the meeting, the group also kicked around the idea of hosting a sound and light show “on the building or above it on surrounding buildings” next year for the tricentennial celebration. They also mulled “temporary or changing thematic wall murals on adjacent buildings.”

Additionally, people suggested the upper floors could have literary uses, “perhaps creating live-work spaces for a community of burgeoning writers,” according to the group’s website.

Kottaridis stressed that the meeting was preliminary, and nothing is set in stone.

“A lot of really good ideas emerged out of the discussion,” she said.

Long before it was a Chipotle restaurant, the Old Corner Bookstore was home to the publishing company Ticknor & Fields; a men’s clothing store; and a 1950s pizza joint with a snazzy sign, according to Globe archives.


Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.