One of the most attractive features of moving to the town I live in was that many people, even Massachusetts residents, reply ‘Where’s that?’ when they ask where I live and I answer them.
Despite being named after the second Governor of Massachusetts (who was amongst the founding fathers of Boston), the town enjoys relative obscurity (read this as not a whole lot of traffic or crowds). Once considered a ‘resort’ destination for those looking to escape city life and enjoy a salty summer breeze, at the tail end of a narrow gauge railroad branch that ran nearly to the ocean, which surrounds three sides of the town, and Winthrop Beach.
Nowadays people access Winthrop via bridge on Route 145 which is the one way into the town (from East Boston) and the same way out (via Revere), which is the one way out of town. I often tell people that Winthrop is like Pompeii – there’s one road in and one road out and if Vesuvius ever blows, we’re all screwed.
Sometimes people laugh at that.
Winthrop is a small town. Also, to me, an attractive feature of living here. There’s a small grocery store, a couple of small pharmacies (one a chain, one not), small restaurants with small bars (though no businesses that are just bars, small or not), the requisite (small) ‘House Of Pizza’ no town seems complete without, small schools, a library (not really ‘small’, per se, but not as big as say Boston Public), small public safety buildings, and various and sundry other businesses, mostly contained in the (small) town center.
Hidden on a side-street that runs from Winthrop’s Main Street all the way to the tip of the town’s peninsula is a (small) red building attached to an (equally small) cedar shingled house. There is no sign out front – save for the faded ‘Books’ placard in the left-hand corner of the front window and the conspicuous plastic totes on the sidewalk under the picture window (filled with books) – to advertise the business. There’s nothing visible from the street to tell you what hours they might be open, no ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign hanging in the window, and no indication of what type of books they offer for sale (new or used, fiction or non-fiction, etc.), or anything to otherwise beckon you inside to look around.
Similarly to the way people, when told I live in Winthrop, respond, ‘Where’s that?’ – Simon’s seems to beg a response of ‘What do they sell?’ from anyone who notices it in their travels – which really takes some work to notice it at all. It’s almost as if you have to already know where it is to find it and patronize it, rather than be a novice seeking it out for the first time.
Nevertheless, seek it out I did, and despite having to drive past it for months before I found it to be open (which I recognized solely by the fact that the inside door, behind the outer storm door, was open and a light was on inside on a gloomy, overcast afternoon). When I saw this, I immediately parked my vehicle (parking is limited to on-street availability), abandoned my plan to go to the grocery store, and went inside, despite my long-time belief that the entire place had to be some kind of literary witness protection program.
The books are plentiful, lined from floor to ceiling, and laying about in stacks here and there and everywhere as well. There are separate sections for fiction and non-fiction, and mystery novels even have their own segregated shelving from the fiction. There is a children’s area as well, and if you are curious enough to venture through the doorway that connects the bookshop to the attached ‘house’ you will even find an assortment of very recent releases – so recent they still qualify as ‘new’.
The contents of the store are a treasure trove. But entering the store to browse is not for the faint of heart. The building (once a neighborhood grocery, according to the shop owner, Lee, a lovely woman who often inquires what made me choose a particular novel or classic work that I have brought to her desk to purchase) holds a lot of books in a small area, and the shelves are very close together – so close in fact that in order to use the ‘reading’ section of my progressive bifocals to see the top shelf offerings I need to tilt my head all the way back, which results in rubbing my head on the shelf behind me. The floors are sloping (more so in some places than others) and the walking paths between the shelves and sections are not always clear of boxes of books waiting to find either space on the shelves or on the shelves of their new homes once purchased.
But don’t let any of that deter you. If you are hale of heart and hearty of a desire to find a good book at a great price (I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than four dollars for a used fiction selection), and if you can not let your joy of finding a good book deter you from paying at least some attention to the floor you are walking on and be mindful of your step, then this is a great place to go. It may not be the only game in town for used books in Winthrop, MA, but it certainly has the largest selection.
On a final note, the store does have a ‘website’, although the information there is as Spartan as the store’s exterior in terms of what it tells you. The hours are listed as 1pm to 10pm Monday through Thursday, 1pm to 6pm on Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.
But don’t quote me on that. I have driven past the store in the afternoon and found the door closed, the lights off, and the plastic bins in the front covered over with blue tarps (what I assume is the anti-theft system employed as the bins never leave the sidewalk) in hours they are supposedly open.
The website can be found at simonswinthropbooks.comcastbiz.net – but don’t quote me on that either, because I tried to copy the link and paste it, and could not.
Again – like a literary witness protection program.
But, like many other New England book stores, definitely worth the trip.
If you can find the town.
If you can find the store.