Boston Bylanes

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Bookworm

Posted by Yoshita Singh on June 28, 2010

Harold Sock gets a lot of phone calls from strangers in a day. But that doesn’t annoy him one bit. He enjoys talking to these people, even though he doesn’t know them and may never get to meet them.

Their topic of discussion? Books.

Sock, 58, is the manager at the New England Mobile Book Fair, a 53-year old book store. As someone who manages the store’s stock of nearly a million books, it is little surprise that people turn to Sock when they want an opinion on which book to read or discuss upcoming works.

“A lot of our customers place orders for books over phone. I may not have met them ever but when they call we chat like old friends and have fun talking about books,” Sock says. The white-haired and bespectacled Sock has been working at the store for the last 2 years. A former psychologist, he was a regular at the store for 11 years before he took up the job as manager. And he loves it.

The 33,000-square-foot store is located at 82-84 Needham St, Newton Highlands. Its simple white facade belies what’s inside it. Those who don’t know about the store are amazed when they walk in. “Wow, I didn’t know the place is this large,” is the reaction Sock says most newcomers have. The family-run store was founded by Lou Strymish in 1957.

                  

Book Fair is not your classy-looking, upscale store. No fancy interiors, no glossy signboards over book shelves. Book Fair has an old-world charm to it. Books are piled up on plain wooden racks. You should know which book you are looking for or else you can lose your way in the store’s maze of the racks and rooms. Subject and categories of books, hand-written on cardboard and paper, are pasted on the shelves to guide you to your book. On one chart indicating where science and nature books are placed, is a drawing of trees, planets and flowers.

The Book Fair is home to close to a million books. Even Sock doesn’t know the exact number of books in the store. Currently, he is working on making an inventory. “Without an inventory, it sometimes gets difficult to keep track of what books are out of stock,” Sock says. It has books on a variety of topics. Theatre, ship loading, railroad, magic, occult, animals, children, immigration, world wars, sci-fi, fantasy, cookbooks, and nature – you imagine a subject and in all probability the Mobile Book Fair will have a book on it. There is a little toy room too – replete with games, accessories – that will keep your little one busy while you shop.

The store also has New England’s largest collection of bargain books – those books that are left with a publisher after he has sold his stock. And you can get these absolutely new books at very cheap rates. “A 50 dollar book is sold for as low as 13 dollars,” Sock says. It also gets proofs of publishers’ upcoming works. “This way we can tell our customers what books would hit the market in the next few months.”

                       

The store takes pride in the relationship it has built with its customers. Sock attributes this to his staff. Those who work at the Book Fair are “book freaks.” They know so much about books, people come up to them and ask which book to read. The staff does not need to look into a computer to find out if a particular book is in store or not. They know the place inside out and know exactly which book is where, Sock says with a sense of pride.

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