The end of an era: Pittsfield's last used book store closing


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PITTSFIELD -- Marian Paon, of Pittsfield, is a frequent visitor to The Book Shelf. She has gone to the used book store at least once, and often twice, a week since it opened on Elm Street 20 years ago.

Paon was at The Book Shelf on Wednesday, but instead of joy in her heart she literally had tears in her eyes.

The Book Shelf, Pitts field's last remaining used book store, is closing this month.

"You don't know how much this is breaking my heart," said Paon, 83, as she stood with her cane next to a rack of used books in the back of the store.

Mary Killeen, who opened The Book Shelf in 1994, is closing the business reluctantly because she can't afford to keep it open. She expects it to close by the second weekend in August, but may keep the store open until Aug. 31 depending on how many books are left (she currently has 15,000). After the store closes, she plans to send the remaining inventory to an Indiana-based company that donates the proceeds of the used books it purchases to literacy organizations.

Killeen said The Book Shelf hadn't been a big money-maker for several years. Last year, she took on a second job to try and keep the store open, but those plans have fallen apart this year because her business has been in the red since January.

"It hasn't made a penny since and I don't have the money to put into it," she said. "I'm not independently wealthy, and I didn't win the Powerball.

"I had an option out of my lease," Killeen said. "I had no choice, basically."

There's also a bigger reason why The Book Shelf is closing, and it has to do with the struggles that the independent sellers of both used and new books are facing in an increasingly world.

"Nobody buys used books the way they used to," Killeen said.

According to Publishers Weekly, used bookstores have been affected by both the recession, and devices like the Kindle and the Nook, which allow readers to read electronic books that they can download online.

Used-book sellers have also taken a hit from online sellers like, which currently controls 22 percent of the national book market, according to the website, Eco-Libris.

"The whole book industry has changed so much," Killeen said. "People love to sit on their couch and order books from Amazon and have them delivered to their house and never have to leave their houses.

"And the younger generation coming up is so used to everything being immediate and in their hands when they want it," she added. "They don't have to wait to earn their allowance to do whatever. I remember I couldn't wait to get my 10 cents allowance so I could go to the bookstore and get my next book."

"It's very sad," said Bob Ginsburg, of San Francisco, who visited The Book Shelf on Wednesday while vacationing in the Berkshires. He said the same situation exists in the Bay Area where only one independent bookstore is located within a mile of his house.

"I just love to browse and find new authors," said the 67-year-old Ginsburg, who purchased a book on tape at The Book Shelf so he can listen to it while driving. "I'm still old fashioned. I still like reading the newspapers."

Pittsfield had at least two used bookstores in the mid-1980s, according to Eagle files. A third store, "A Novel Idea" on Williams Street, closed shortly before The Book Shelf opened in the mid-1990s, Killeen said.

County-wide, nine used book sellers are listed in the Berkshire telephone directory, with six of them located in South County towns. Other places, like the recently closed Wild Sage in Pittsfield, sell used books, but often offer them in conjunction with other items, Killeen said.

Paon, who described herself as a "die-hard book person," doesn't know where she will shop for books after The Book Shelf closes.

"I have no idea because I can't go too far because I can't drive at night," said Paon, who lives on Lenox Avenue, a fair distance from Elm Street.

"It's awful," she said. "Awful."


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