My favorite bookstore of all time was Tatnuck Booksellers, which occupied a refurbished warehouse near Tatnuck Square in Worcester, Massachusetts.

During college, my high school friends and I had many joyful reunions in the Tatnuck parking lot. Then we’d roam the store for a few minutes, selecting books and magazines, and claim a table at the in-store café. The menu was eclectic; you could get anything from chocolate cake to quesadillas. We ate, drank, flipped through our books, talked, laughed.

The good folks at Tatnuck never gave us a hard time about making too much noise or tying up a booth for hours. Before we left we always bought something — a book or two, or a little trinket from the nook that displayed jewelry, incense, and pretty twirly glass things to hang in your window.

That location closed in 2005 to make way for the “new” Tatnuck about ten miles away. It’s become the largest independent bookstore in New England. Any thriving independent bookstore in this day and age is a victory.

Matt and I recently rented You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Meg plays the owner of an independent bookshop, a cornerstone of her community, a gathering place. Tom plays the owner of a mega chain bookstore that’s opening across the street from Meg’s little inde. Meg’s character and Tom’s character strike up an anonymous online flirtation and fall into virtual love, not knowing that they’re actually sworn enemies.

If you like romantic comedies in the vein of When Harry Met Sally, I recommend this film. The dialogue sparkles, and the tension is great fun. Plus, it’ll bring you back to the days of enormous cordless phones and unflattering early-90s fashion. And, it’ll spark important conversation about local shops versus chain monsters, and inde booksellers going the way of the dodo bird.

Do you have a favorite bookstore or bookstore memory? How about a favorite bookstore movie?

~Alicia Bessette

21 Replies to “Tatnuck”

  1. I love Shop Around the Corner!!! You’ve Got Mail is one of my all time favorite movies. We have a children’s store called the Blue Manatee and i love going in there. I love to close my eyes, smell and listen. If the owners didn’t know me, they would probably kick me out!

  2. as a former longtime employee of a chain bookstore, i sympathize with Tom Hanks character. he was just trying to create a place where hipster employees could lament their low wages and mock customers for purchasing bestsellers instead of the unpublished short stories of existentialist sci-fi writers. I mean, where else is a young person with half a graduate degree and an unwritten novel supposed to work?? Ah, memories.

  3. You’ve Got Mail was a great romantic comedy. Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly was a terrific woman.
    Living here in Iquitos I do miss bookstores as there are none. About the only thing the locals read are these cheesy little newspapers with soccer stories and photos of girls with enormous butts. For many years I had to rely on book exchanges at a couple of restaurants. One restaurant, which I refuse to set foot in, has an American owner (who probably doesn’t even know how to read) who has his book exchange shelves covered in wire mesh and you have to ask a waitress to open them. This is because he has a policy that if you take one “big book” then you have to replace it with “one big book or two small books”.
    I was once at a remote Bora Indian village and found copies of Candy and also First Blood (the first Rambo book).

  4. As a teenager, I spent endless hours in CD/record and book shops. LOTS of time. The Internet killed most of my favorites. Third Street Rock & Jazz. The used book store on South Street. (Both were in Philly.) Sometimes I wonder what I am doing with the time I used to devote to browsing bookshops and record stores. The answer of course is Facebook and Twitter and blogs. The plus is that we get to network with people all over the world, which is amazing. The downside is that we never get to spend a few hours in a dusty old shop wondering what we might discover in a forgotten corner of the store, or behind the strange cat that lingers about. It’s a trade. Don’t know why we can’t have both. When I was at Goddard we used to visit this very cool used bookshop in nowhere Vermont and buy bizarre books I’d never heard of before. I never actually read any of the books I bought there…mostly old out of print books on obscure subjects like early 20th century mystics (I’d tell myself I’d use these books for research) but it was fun to go to this store. Six or so MFA students piled into a car and then browsing shelves for an hour or so before showing off purchases by the nearby stream. On the ride home it was as though we were pirates bringing back cool loot. Not the same as opening your PO Box and finding exactly what you ordered from Amazon, although that can be nice too.

  5. I might as well move in to my local Waterstones in Nottingham. I’m shopping there a couple of times a week and I never leave without a book (or six!). I love their huge range of choice, the staff recommendations, the open airy environment with comfy sofas scattered everywhere just in case you need to sit down while being distracted by a book, the exhibition space on the top floor, the author events and signings, plus the cafe and it’s views across the city. It’s lovely to sit next the windows bathed in sunlight with a coffee and read for a while.

  6. Everyday, Bailey/Coy Books on Broadway in Seattle used to post the first line of a novel outside, on a sandwich board. If you guessed which novel it was from, you got 10% off a purchase. My roomie Sarah and I would walk up past it on our way to get greyhounds at the Broadway Grill, and the crystalline, solitary thrill of a novel’s first line always bent our walking path toward it. I knew then, vaguely and acutely, that it was this kind of humble routine that gave an ethos its ether. The sandwich board was a spiritual morse code of sorts, a signal that—in a world where it’s generally quite hard to win things—this was something I could win at on a pretty regular basis. And yet it was also something I could reliably enjoy losing at and obsessing over.
    But no bookstore beats the old Tatnuck. I knew back then that it was archetypal. Somehow it took the wind out of all the other bookstores I met later, as Prince’s song 1999 did, well, to the real year 1999.
    I mean, who else could display a hundred copies of Deepak Chopra on a prehistoric mint-green lathe?

  7. The things I learn from the comment thread! The Shop Around the Corner is a film starring James Stewart and was the basis for You’ve Got Mail. And Rambo was a book before it was a movie. I did not realize these things. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

  8. Ooh, I love Tatnuck’s! I did a lovely book signing event there last June – at their new location in Westboro. What a lovely place. Alicia – you should do a book signing there and I’ll be sure to come!

  9. I just googled “Tatnuck” … knew it was a Native American word, but didn’t know what it meant. So, for all you word/Worcester nerds:

    ” Tatnuck, Tatnick- 1. A village in the western part of Worcester, MA. Also a name of the brook at the same place, the town and brook taking the name from the hill. From the Nipmuc Indian word k’t-adene-k, “at the great hill” (the equivalent of Katahdin with locative affix; or perhaps Wut-aden-ek, “at the hill”).

    “Tatnuck Square” being the area surrounding the intersection of Pleasant Street and Chandler Street. “

  10. My favorite is Ben Franklin Bookstore on Salem St. in Worcester, a used bookstore where you walk in and smell, well, used books. I love it. (It also has cats, which is always a plus.) In fact, almost any used bookstore anywhere instantly sucks me in. I don’t know what it is, but it’s like searching for buried treasure and finding it, over and over again. It has become the substitute for all my old books, which remain in boxes in the attic because my house is too small. Someday, I’ll have shelf space and I’ll go up and open those boxes to my old friends and take a long sniff and feel . . . aaaaaah!

  11. My favorite is a small used book store called the Cranbury Book Worm in the historic town of Cranbury, NJ. It’s one of those places that transports you back in time — centuries even. The store was once an old home, probably built in the 17 or 1800s. It smells like a dusty attic and is covered wall to wall in old and rare books. The collection was different every time I’d go, and I would spend hours browsing through the shelves on weekends looking for hidden gems. I bought my most treasured books there: a complete set of shakespeare, each play individually packaged in tiny, tattered blue hardcovers; and my favorite, well-worn paperback edition of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — which is still my favorite book of all time… next to Alicia’s, of course.

  12. We were brought up as serious book readers. My parents encouraged reading as if it was necessary for our survival ( I never understood why, but I love them for that ). When I was younger and living overseas, there was a small bookstore in our neighborhood that we always used to go there and buy our books. The owner was a very nice man that had a very handsome son who was our age ( I never forget how cute he was, hahaha). Anyway, the bookstore was ridiculously small but he managed to fit almost few copies of every possible books in the market in his store. There was no way that you could go and browse through them and find a book, you needed to know what you are looking for and then go and ask him for it. He was the only key to that puzzle that he called it bookstore. Anyway, after going there for years, he exactly knew what kind of book and stories we each liked to read. Every time we got there, he would put few books in front of each one of us and said here are “YOUR BOOKS” and we always loved them.
    I have not been there for over 10 years now, but last year I needed an original edition of a book, so I called him up after all these years and he remembered me. I asked him for the book and sure enough he found the original edition of that book and sent it to me.
    If I ever go back home, he would be among the first group of people that I would visit.

  13. Ooh, Worcester. I like that city. Alicia–Did you ever go to the Worcester Art Museum? I love that place! (I’m sorry to say that I haven’t ever been to Tatnuck.)

  14. My favorite bookstore, Turn of the Page, was all dark wood brightened slightly by well-worn oriental carpets scattered about. Those old authentic stores never had windows to distract those inside, but the front window lured…

    And, Alicia, The Little Shop Around the Corner was also a book!

  15. I remember selling my books back to the book store, then heading to the local pubs. It seemed like free money even though we got back about a quarter on the dollar. Times were lean but God, it was fun.

  16. Smith’s Book Shop, Machester Street, Christchurch, New Zealand. Lovely three story shop where you could get lost for hours and forget you were so far from home. Oh…and found newly released British edition of The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick first floor, center, front. Not so far from home after all! Only two copies left…bought one and told the clerk he needed to order more.

  17. Oh how I loved “The Shop Around the Corner”–thanks for reminding me that I need to see that movie again soon. It’s one of my favorites! 🙂 xo (P.S. I loooooove bookstores.)

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