Grolier Poetry Bookshop

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Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Industry Specialty retail
Founded 1927 (1927)
Founders Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie
Headquarters Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Number of locations 1 store
Area served Boston metropolitan area
Products Poetry books
Owners Ifeanyi Menkiti
Outside Grolier Poetry Book Shop, August 2005

The Grolier Poetry Book Shop ("the Grolier") is an independent bookstore on Plympton Street near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Although founded as a "fine-arts" bookstore, its focus today is solely poetry. A small (404 sq ft.), one-room store with towering bookcases, it lays claim to being the "oldest continuous bookshop" devoted solely to the sale of poetry and poetry criticism.

Over the years, the Grolier became a focus of poetic activity in the Cambridge area, which itself had, because of the influence of Harvard University, become a magnet for American poets. It became a point of call for visiting poets as well as a nexus of gossip, rumor and networking in the poetry community. Poets such as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, and Frank O'Hara were regulars at the store during their time as undergraduates at Harvard; the poet Conrad Aiken lived upstairs from the store in its early days. Numerous other poets and writers, including Russell Banks, Frank Bidart, William Corbett, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Marianne Moore, Mary Oliver, Charles Olson, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, James Tate and Franz Wright, have been noted as "friends of the Grolier."


The Grolier Poetry Book Shop was founded in September 1927 by Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie; the subsequent owner, Louisa Solano, a 1966 graduate of Boston University, took over operation of the store in 1974 after Cairnie's death. The original owners were independently wealthy and were able to run the business at a loss, giving away books to favoured customers without charge, falling behind with bills and turning a blind eye to theft. Much of the activity at Grolier's under Cairnie's management was of the social kind: visitors lounged on a red couch while sharing drinks with the owners.

Solano was unable to support the store with her own money and turned it into a self-sustaining business. She found innovative ways to promote poetry in the Cambridge community; for many years the Grolier has sponsored an annual, national poetry contest as well as a reading series in nearby Adams House, a dormitory at Harvard. Solano's knowledge of poetry was well known in the Cambridge and Harvard community, and in the era before internet bookselling, she was considered a valuable source for people seeking rare and unusual poetry titles. Under Solano's management, for example, the store was the first to stock Language Magazine, the periodical that launched the avant-garde L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement.

In 2002, a 75th anniversary celebration[1] by the Poetry Society of America drew a crowd of over 800 people, and Grolier's is listed as a "poetry landmark" by the Academy of American Poets.[2]

Nonetheless, in 2004 Solano announced that, having lost money for the previous two years,[3] the Grolier would be sold.[4] The causes of the shop's troubles were numerous: a rise in Internet bookselling that made it easier to find rare titles online, increasing store theft, rising rent from the Grolier's landowner (Harvard University), a growth in university-centered, as opposed to community-centered, creative writing opportunities, and the rise of chain stores in the Harvard Square area that reduced the area's attractiveness to the Grolier's target market. In March 2006, the store was sold to Nigerian poet Ifeanyi Menkiti, a professor at Wellesley College.

In September 2012, the Grolier Poetry Book Shop celebrated its 85th anniversary, a celebration that continued until September 2013. Owner Menkiti also created the nonprofit Grolier Poetry Foundation to help support the store, as well as local poetry initiatives.[5]



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Coordinates: 42°22′20″N 71°07′00″W / 42.37232°N 71.11656°W / 42.37232; -71.11656