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The Grolierís SOS

On Tuesday, the Phoenix received a rather disturbing e-mail: Harvard Squareís Grolier Poetry Book Shop, one of only two stores in the US devoted to poetry, might have to close down.

The Grolier has been in business since 1927, and, in the intervening years, its shelves have been browsed by the likes of T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, e.e. cummings, Allen Ginsberg, and Marianne Moore. Today, the store hosts a well-regarded reading series, and is the "engine" ó as owner Louisa Solano puts it ó that drives the annual Grolier Poetry Prize. But now, to put it bluntly, Solano finds herself in a hole.

"The fact is, I have a lot of bills," says Solano, who has presided over the Grolier since 1974. "And until I pay off those bills, I wonít be able to get any new inventory." Without an infusion of cash, she adds, the store will probably close its doors for the last time at the end of January. To raise the money it will need to tide it over, the Grolier is currently selling its books at a 15 percent discount. Solano is also hoping for donations from poetry-friendly locals ó "So if there are any wealthy people out there ..."

Solano knows that even if her shop does survive this crisis, she will have to make some changes. "Iíd like to form a committee, people who have more knowledge of marketing than I do, the Internet, this century," she says. "Iím kind of losing touch with some of the things that are going on. I havenít adapted to the marketplace, which is just so cutthroat." She adds, with a wry chuckle, "This store has always been run a little eccentrically."

Although there are times she thinks itís "incredible" that her store has lasted so long in the face of "the monoliths around here," Solano is far from throwing in the towel. "I have no intention of giving up on this store until the doors are locked," she says. "I think itís just too valuable an asset, and not only to Cambridge. Seventy-five years is quite some time. Letís just say I strongly believe in the combination of survival mode and stubbornness. Miracles have always happened in this place, so maybe another one will occur."

For more information, call the Grolier at (617) 547-4648, or e-mail Solano at GrolierPoetry@cs.com.

Issue Date: December 19 - 25, 2003
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