A store with character

Is our children reading?
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  February 15, 2012

Curious George shall rise again. As Publishers Weekly reported, the Harvard Square monkey-merchandise-cum-children's-bookstore, shuttered last summer, will return in late April under new ownership.

"As much as my wife and I and our three kids love Curious George, it would be hard to make it as a stand-alone bookstore," new owner Jamie Hirsch told PW's Judith Rosen. "Instead, the Hirsches will supplement Curious George books with other titles for young children," Rosen wrote, "as well as a number of one-a-kind T-shirts and other children's clothing, bibs, sippy cups, and magnets, which feature Curious George."

As anyone who visited the shop will tell you, the previous owners of Curious George always supplemented their sippy cups with a number of titles penned by people other than erstwhile Cantabrigians Hans and Margret Rey. But merchandise was its bread and butter.

"We used to get a lot of requests for merchandise that combined Curious George and Harvard," says Natasha Gilmore, now a used-book buyer at Brookline Booksmith, who worked at Curious George while studying children's literature at Emerson. In its former incarnation, Gilmore says, Curious George was, above all, a tourist destination.

If Curious George — one of the world's most famous and beloved children's book characters the world over — can't sustain an entire bookstore, who can? Here are some contenders.


"The obvious one, I'm sure, that would be easy to make work is Harry Potter, if you could get the rights," says Mary Cotton, the co-owner of Newtonville Books. "If it could sustain an amusement park, I imagine a smallish boutique would be easy. . . . Even with such a small number of actual books, the merchandising is endless."


The six-year-old one-percenter at the center of Kay Thompson's five-book series lives in a penthouse in New York City's Plaza Hotel. Recently, the Plaza cashed in on the Eloise trend by re-creating her room on the 18th floor, enlisting the help of whimsical designer Betsey Johnson. For rates starting at $1200, heiresses can stay en famille in the pink-and-black Eloise Suite. Poor children can have a party in the Eloise Tea Room for a mere $800. Destitute children may purchase a T-shirt in the gift shop.


Affection for the Belgian reporter Tintin and his little dog, Snowy, keeps London's Tintin Shop in business. Steven Spielberg's recent film aside, Hergé's beloved character holds no such retail power in the states. Prospects don't seem great in Tintin's native Belgium, either, where a political-science student made a formal request to ban the intrepid newsman from schools on allegations of racism and colonial propaganda.


"I imagine you could do a Dr. Seuss store," says Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children's Book Shop in Brookline, citing the ineffable volume of books, spin-offs, films, and merchandise. "But anybody else I don't think could pull it off."


"Mo Willems is hugely popular," Schmitz says, considering the platinum-selling author of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, There is a Bird on Your Head! and Cat the Cat, Who Is That? But in spite of these many accomplishments, Schmitz says Willems couldn't pull off his very own store just yet. "There are lots of recognizable characters, but I don't think any store could possibly survive just doing Eloise or Madeline or Piggie."

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