In a survey conducted as part of the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s 2011 Plan for the Neighborhood, around 400 respondents selected a bookstore and café as their first choice for a new incoming neighborhood business, and that wish might be fulfilled next year with the planned opening of Beacon Hill Books in the building until recently occupied by The Hungry I restaurant.
Chestnut Street resident and business owner Melissa Fetter intends to transform the first three floors of the 3,000 square-foot, four-story property at 71 Charles St. into a retail space with floor-to-ceiling bookcases showcasing a comprehensive selection of reading material, such as high-end, specialized periodicals printed in Europe, among other esoteric and hard-to-find publications.
“We want to be able to offer enough inventory to meet the needs of all customers and a curated collection that reflects the interests of our clientele,” Fetter said. “We’ll also offer robust programming like all good neighborhood bookstores, including author appearances and speakers on the topics of the day. There will be programming we provide, but we’re also open to other groups that might want to use our space at night, such as book clubs.”
The third floor would be devoted exclusively to children’s books, with titles aimed at toddlers found in back.
“We hope that it will spark the interest of young readers,” Fetter said, and that activities like an afternoon “story time” could offer an opportunity for young children to explore reading on site.
Throughout the store, comfortable seating will allow customers to read while basing before one of several operational fireplaces during the winter months.
“We want to keep the look residential so customers feel like they’re coming into someone’s home and shopping for books,” Fetter said.
Meanwhile, the former Hungry I space will make way for a garden-level café offering breakfast and lunch items, such as baked goods, soups and salads, and serving English tea in the afternoon, replete with scones and clotted cream.
“English tea is one of my favorite things,” Fetter said, “and it seems that in this climate, that it would be very popular with customers.”
Another fireplace will be built out in the café, with new window openings providing a clear view of its interior from the adjacent walkway that would lead to a backyard garden for outdoor dining and socializing during temperate weather.
An elevator would also be installed to carry patrons from the garden-level café to the third-floor while the fourth floor will accommodate only office space.
A Beacon Hill firm, Pauli & Uribe Architects LLC, is serving as the architect for the project, which after receiving the necessary permitting and approval from the city, Fetter expects should take between nine and 12 months to complete.
“I love old buildings, and I love preserving architecture,” she said. “We’re going to be very thoughtful to go out of our way to preserve what’s there and to reveal what’s been covered up.”
Moreover, Fetter and her husband, Trevor, who shared a small apartment on Mt. Vernon Street in the ‘80s, were immediately struck by the absence of a bookstore in the neighborhood upon returning here in January after living Dallas.
“We were surprised to find no bookstores in the area, and the more we thought about it and chatted with other residents on the Hill, a local bookstore seemed like a great project to undertake,” Fetter said.
Focus groups are planned to get input from the community on what would make for their ideal neighborhood bookstore as well.
“We’re keen to get feedback as to what people want to see in a locally owned bookstore, and we’re really open to all suggestions,” Fetter said. “The key factor to our success is whether the neighborhood rallies around an independent bookstore and makes it the heart of the community.”
Ultimately, Fetter hopes Beacon Hill Books will become a meeting place and destination for the entire neighborhood in the years to come.
“I want to this to be a community resource,” she said. “This is a labor of love and love of books and love of this neighborhood.”