Raven Book Store set to move into bigger space on Massachusetts Street
photo by: Nick Gerik
I don’t know why, but I think Edgar Allan Poe would be pleased that a bookstore named after one of his most famous works will be located in a building that used to hone people’s axe-throwing skills. Indeed, that’s the plan for the Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence.
After more than 30 years on Seventh Street, the Raven is set to make the move up to Massachusetts Street. The store has signed a deal to occupy 809 Massachusetts St. — the former home of the Blade & Timber entertainment venue that featured axe throwing — once renovations on the building are complete. The move, though, likely won’t happen until the spring of 2021, as the building needs significant work following a fire in October 2019.
Owner Danny Caine said the increased foot traffic on Massachusetts Street certainly was one reason he wanted to move the store. But there’s also an odd plot twist to this move: An independent bookstore needs more space to process all the online book orders it is getting. That’s coming from an industry where the biggest fear for decades has been that online booksellers like Amazon would put small, local shops out of business.
“Forty percent of our orders are getting shipped out right now, and that requires a lot of space,” Caine said. “Even when we reopen (to in-person shopping) this shipping and delivery service will be part of the business model. That is really what lit the fire underneath me to do this.”
The new space will be about twice as large as the current store at 6 E. Seventh Street. Caine said he plans to use the new space to enlarge the sales floor by about 50%, while using the rest of the space to create a backroom operation to process books for shipping and delivery. In the current store, that work has to be done on the sales floor.
“We basically will have space that is custom-built for us to do business in,” Caine said.
The renovations to the building will be significant. Caine said the renovation includes a complete remodeling to replace the damage from the fire. However, he said the building’s landlord is committed to saving the tin ceilings and wood floors in the building, along with other details that help highlight its age.
“We really want to make a statement with a beautiful bookstore in downtown Lawrence,” Caine said. “We want people to come in and immediately pull out their cell phones to take a picture of the space.”
He said customers will notice a larger inventory of books in the new location. He said the store especially will focus on enlarging its collection of books for children.
“It will let us have an immersive kids section that is fun for kids to browse,” Caine said. “We want to do some kids programming. We want to create a great nook for kids and their families.”
Caine, though, said it will be different to have the Raven anywhere other than its Seventh Street spot, which is about a half block off of Massachusetts Street. The Raven has been in the Seventh Street location since it opened in September 1987.
Caine, who has owned the business since 2017, said he thinks the new space will help the store do what it already has been doing for years — making a connection with the community. He said that connection with the community has been the big reason the store not only has survived during the pandemic, but is in a position to expand.
“Early on we asked people to switch and support us in this (online) way,” Caine said of the decision to temporarily close the sales floor and focus on remote and online sales. “The support has been enough that we have kept the team together and not cut anyone’s hours. We are thankful for that everyday.”
The store obviously faces huge online competitors, but Caine said Lawrence residents have found it easy to rally around the Raven. If you remember, the store’s previous owners were part of a community group that opposed a development plan in the 1990s to build a Borders bookstore in downtown. Their efforts to stop the Borders project failed, although portions of a historic building were preserved. Ultimately, though, it was Borders that closed its doors in 2011, while the Raven continued to have success.
The issues may be a bit different today, but Caine said the spirit is the same.
“The Raven always has made pro-small-business advocacy part of its business model,” Caine said. “The argument really resonates. People want to support businesses that give back to their communities.”