Last chapter for The Old Book Store in Northampton

  • The Old Book Store on Masonic Street in Northampton, photographed on Sunday, Jan. 30, has closed after 64 years. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • The Old Book Store on Masonic Street in Northampton, shown Sunday, has closed after 64 years in business. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2022 9:28:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After 64 years on Masonic Street, one of downtown’s longest-running stores has closed.

Open since 1958, The Old Book Store turned its final page last month. In a phone interview Tuesday, owner Henry Walz confirmed that he is looking to sell the business and the commercially zoned basement condominium it has called home since 1979.

“I have mixed emotions about getting out of there, there’s no doubt about that,” Walz said. “I figure if I don’t retire at age 73, when the heck am I going to get around to retiring.”

Walz took over the business in the early 1990s from his parents, Carl and Bliss, who first opened their doors in the building across the street where the Masonic Street parking lot now stands.

“I don’t think anybody gets into the used book business to make their fortune,” Walz said. “I liked it. I like books.”

But being an avid reader is hardly all it takes to run a bookstore, especially for as long as The Old Book Store has operated. Walz said it helped that the family bought the space in 1987. When people tell him they love books and would love to run a bookstore, he said his “smart-aleck” answer is to say that’s like telling your bartender, mid-drink, that you like drinking and would consider running a bar.

“There’s a lot more to it than enjoying books and enjoying reading,” he said.

Walz still remembers when firefighters used to come in frequently from the fire station down the street, where Woodstar Café is now located. Back then, he said downtown used to have many more reasons for a wider variety of people to visit — law and dentist offices, a stationary shop and a hardware store, to name a few.

“I think downtown then was in a lot of ways more diverse than it is now,” Walz said. “It’s turning more and more into an entertainment district.”

A lot has changed since then. Online retail and e-books have made life more difficult for book sellers and other brick-and-mortar stores. Customers and fellow businesses have come and gone, and downtown has gone through its boom and bust periods.

Walz said he has seen everything from kids growing into adults to marriages going south. Just being a part of the community has been the best part of the job, he said.

W. Michael Ryan, a retired judge and former northwestern district attorney, reacted with sadness on Wednesday when informed that the bookstore was closing. He said that of the thousands of books at his house, at least a couple of hundred came from Walz’s store.

He said he first fell in love with the place as a child, and recounted a flood of memories the store evoked for him.

“You could go in and talk about books, talk about writers,” Ryan said. “It was a wonderful thing for me growing up as a child and all through my life.”

When he worked as district attorney and later as a judge, Ryan said that he would frequently stop by The Old Book Store when he needed time away from the job on his lunch break. Nobody would come looking for him there, he said with a laugh. When he was younger, he said that he would go in to read books for hours, and that Walz wouldn’t mind if he left empty-handed. But as an adult, he said he never left without a new book to read.

“To me, it was like going to church,” he joked. “If you go to church, you’ve got to put something in when they pass around asking you for a contribution.”

Ryan said that used bookstores are important, and that it was The Old Book Store that first introduced him to the concept of used books as a child.

“Something like the used book business, which has always been marginal, I don’t know what the future holds,” Walz said. “There will always be used bookstores, but the glory days are probably behind us.”

Walz certainly lived through those glory days. He said he still even has a couple of customers come into the store who were around when his parents first opened the shop. But after so many years of working, with only a week or two of vacation most years, he’s ready to start a new chapter, he said.

“At this point, I’m going to shut down the business, get rid of the books one way or another … and then I’ll clear out the space and sell it,” he said.

Bookstores have been Walz’s life since he was little. He met his wife when the two were working at a different bookstore. Her father taught English and ran a bookstore, and of course his parents ran a bookstore, too.

“It’s kind of in my blood,” he said.

But after all this time, Walz is ready for a new chapter.

“It’s been a good run, but time for something else,” Walz said. “I was probably saying the same thing five years ago and never got out of there,” he said with a laugh before pausing: “Although I’m not out the door yet.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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