Through the throes of COVID-19, Brattle Book Shop owner Ken Gloss said he had faith that the pandemic wouldn’t (and couldn’t) keep him from hawking his celebrated collection of rare and used books. The extra cushion of revenue that came from providing custom backdrops for Zoom users and film set-designers didn’t hurt, either.
“As long as we stayed healthy and we kept everybody on staff… I had very little doubt that we weren’t going to [re]open,” he said. “I love what I do, I don’t know what else I’d do.”
Gloss, who joined Boston Public Radio on Tuesday as part of the show’s ongoing series about local businesses reopening, rested much of the credit for his shop’s pandemic success on their array of uniquely passionate regulars.
“I think you could hide [our books] … you could put them in the basement, you could not tell anybody that you had anything, and somehow they’d figure it out and get there,” he joked.
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Others who were less comfortable coming into the shop, he said, kept in touch with near-daily phone calls.
"Some of them we got phone calls from almost every day, and chatted with them," he said. "There are a few that actually did, they called and checked ... I think they just needed someone to talk to."
Though the nearly century-old shop has been operational for close to a year, Gloss said the bulk of their more casual customers are only now beginning to make their in-person return.
“If you don’t see someone for a year — forget the pandemic — you worry,” he said. “But in the last few weeks since the vaccine, we’ve actually people [who say] ‘I haven’t been in for a year, I’m vaccinated now, I feel safe to come in.’”
There is one customer Gloss still wonders about, though.
“She’s a wonderful woman,” he recalled. “And we haven’t seen her for a while, so we don’t know what it is … but she literally would eat Bibles. She would tear pages out, put them in her mouth, and eat the word of God.”
This mysterious woman’s snacking habit, he noted, was relegated to pages from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible. King James translations, for instance, didn’t cut it.
“She actually told us once, she was getting dental work done and she wanted a chip of the Douay version put in her tooth. Again, it’s taking in the word of God — and she was serious.”
Ken Gloss is the proprietor of The Brattle Book Shop, one of America's oldest book stores. He also appraises books.