Raven Used Books to nest on Newbury

By PETER KADZIS  |  March 17, 2010


When some years ago John Petrovato decided to make a career change, he swapped the insecurity of playing bass in a New Jersey–based indie-rock band for the uncertainty of selling used books in Montague, Massachusetts, a mill town on the banks of the Connecticut River not far from Springfield.

One thing led to another, and Petrovato moved his business, which came to be called Raven Used Books, to Amherst, and then opened a store in Northampton.

After a period of what investment bankers would call consolidation and diversification, Petrovato sold his interest in the still-thriving Northampton branch of Raven and transferred his Amherst operation to 52-B JFK Street in Cambridge, where for the last five years it has nested profitably in one of the nation's brainiest zip codes, 02138.

Although booksellers are not known to be among the most avaricious of capitalists, no one plays the bass professionally without at least flirting with the idea of greater glory.

So, with an eye toward duplicating the success he enjoys in Harvard Square, Petrovato is this Saturday opening a Raven Books at 263 Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay.

At 1100 square feet, the Newbury outpost will be slightly larger than the JFK headquarters, which occupies 875 clean, well-lighted square feet. In a nod to the more cutthroat retail imperatives on the Boston side of the Charles, the extra 225 feet will be dedicated to display, which in the book biz means showing something more than the spines of its wares.

"Both stores stock about 15,000 books," Petrovato explains on a recent rainy afternoon, as he and employees prepare for the opening. "In Cambridge, we sell about 5000 a month. I expect that we'll do about the same here in Boston. . . . The challenge, the fun of a used book store, is finding the new books — well, the new old and used books — to keep our customers satisfied and coming back."

And is there a difference in the reading habits north and south of the river?

"We'll have more fiction in Boston than in Cambridge, more extensive art and arts volumes, and we'll carry cookbooks and children's literature," he notes. "We won't have a post-colonialism section, but we will carry philosophy."

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