Despite the ongoing health crisis, Beacon Hill Books is pressing on with its plan to open on Charles Street.
“I’m still moving forward, even though this is a crazy moment to be embarking on a new enterprise,” said Chestnut Streetresident Melissa Fetter in regard to opening a bookstore and café in the building at 71 Charles St. that was formerly home to The Hungry I restaurant. “My instinct is it’s going to work, and I’m counting on the support of the community to make it happen.”
Fetter intends to transform the first three floors of the 3,000 square-foot, four-story building into a retail space with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, with the third floor devoted exclusively to children’s books. The former Hungry I space will also be converted into a garden-level café.
After closing on the purchase of the building in September and finalizing plans for the new business in December, Fetter knew that renovating a building dating back to the 1850s would be fraught with challenges. But before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she expected to be open his fall.
“Since then, we’ve been making our way through the various bureaucratic levels of approval,” Fetter said.
So far, the proposal has received a vote of approval from the Beacon Hill Architectural Committee, as well as a letter of non-opposition from the Beacon Hill Civic Association Zoning and Licensing Committee, but it’s still awaiting additional permitting and approvals from the city.
“In the interim while we’re waiting for all the approvals, we’re making emergency repairs to the building, including restoring an about-to-collapse chimney,” Fetter said. “Bricks on the front and back facades became separated from the building, so about 75 percent of them had to be removed and reattached.”
Other emergency work has also been undertaken, including repairing roof tiles that were falling off the building and restoring windows Fetter said were “precariously attached.” Excavation and repair work will follow on a sewer line beneath the building that extends under the sidewalk and below the middle of Charles Street.
Fetter is also waiting on approval to install an elevator that would operate between the garden-level café and the third-floor. (The building’s fourth floor would serve as office space.)
“We’re putting in the elevator at great expense to make it a fully accessible building to all,” she said. “All this is the preamble to building the bookshelves, building out the café and starting the bookstore. If I had to guess, we’re probably a year out from the store opening.”
But despite the setbacks she has encountered and still faces, such as how social distancing will ultimately factor into her business plan, Fetter remains committed to the idea of the bookstore becoming a gathering space and a community resource for the neighborhood.
“Bookstore are more important than ever given [the current health crisis and social turmoil],” she said. “Bookstores and books are places to understand different points of view, and to escape when we need to find some solace.”