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Raven Used Books, Cambridge

#8 of 8 in Shopping in Cambridge
Gift & Specialty Shop · Hidden Gem · Shopping
John Petrovato, owner of Raven Used Books, has been a bookseller for over 20 years. His first shop was the Montague Bookmill in Montague, MA, which he co-owned with David Lovelace from 1992 to 2000. Located in a nineteenth century grist mill, The Bookmill was a beautiful, expansive store that stocked over 50,000 books and provided a full service cafe. Featured numerous times in the New York Times, Boston Globe and Yankee magazine, the shop also hosted both local and national acts in its performance space.

In 1995, John Petrovato, David Lovelace and Betsy Frederick opened up Raven Used Books in Northampton, MA, followed by the second Raven in Amherst, MA a few years later. Both these shops had strong selections of general, literary and scholarly titles. In 2005 the two stores became separate business entities, and John moved the Amherst shop to Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, excited about the possibility of running a bookstore in a premier academic location.

The Harvard Square shop opened in month 2005 at 52 JFK street. Specializing in scholarly and literary titles, the store quickly obtained a loyal and enthusiastic customer base. Hundreds of books come through the doors every day, sold by professors, grad students, and the general literary community. This turn over of 1200+ books every week keeps the stock at Raven Used Books fresh and exciting.

In 2009, John began to search for a Boston location for a second store. Despite trepidation among the general public about the declining state of the retail book business, John felt a quality bookstore in a prime location could do well. In March, 2010, he opened Raven Used Books on the best known shopping street in New England-- Newbury Street in Boston. Located between Gloucester and Fairfield streets, The Raven has already established itself as a prime tourist destination as well as local community bookstore. As in Harvard Square, neighbors and visitors alike were excited to see a privately owned local business open up in an area where chain stores have become more prevalent. In 2011, the store began hosting readings and book launches, including luminary speakers such as Noam Chomsky. In its first year of business, the book store sold almost 50,000 books. The Boston store was awarded "Best of the New" by the Boston Globe in 2010 and both shops won the Boston Phoenix's readers poll for "Best Used Bookstore" for 2011. Also awarded "best of boston" in Boston magazine for 2012.

As opposed to many other booksellers in the country, John Petrovato believes that the market, though struggling, is still strong and plans to open up additional shops in the following years. As opposed to most bookstores who are putting more and more of their stock on-line and/or closing their doors, The Raven has very few books on line, as John prefers to have the best stock on the shelves for local customers rather than to be sold to anonymous buyers around the world. It is a practice that has helped build a loyal customer base and one of the strongest stock of books available on the shelves of a used bookstore.

In December, 2012 John Petrovato and 2 other longtime booksellers and a creative chef, opened Portsmouth Book & Bar in Portsmouth, NH. (about one hour north of Boston). Book and Bar offers much more than select used books, great food, and beers; we offer a sense of place, a unique experience created through design, community events, and cultural events. We've restored one of the most historic spaces in downtown Portsmouth—the Custom House—and given it an old world, defiantly non-digital ambience—an old fashioned browser's bookshop offering espresso, craft beers, and lovely small plates.
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Raven Used Books reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
17 reviews
  • great bookstore with some interesting finds. takes a little bit of digging, but the payoff is worth it. new arrivals stacked by the front door had some great books.  more »
  • Nice little bookstore to visit near Harvard. I would not make a special trip for it but if your near Harvard stop in to check it out if your into books!  more »
  • Good collection of books, arranged well. You might not find some of the hot selling books as they tend to get sold out faster. Prices are amazing. The new copies are also sold at a discounted price. Totally worth a visit.
  • Decent selection of used books with reasonable prices. Well worth a visit.

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