Toting more than 13,000 books and four computer systems this week may have been the easiest part of the Raven Book Store’s short move to its new home facing Lawrence’s downtown Massachusetts Street.
Though owner Danny Caine signed a letter of intent to take over the new space at 809 Mass. at the end of August 2020, he said a move from the East Seventh Street location is something he’d thought about since buying the store in 2017.
Monday was the 34-year-old store’s final day in its founding spot, and Caine said that although it was sad, in ways, to be leaving, the move will be nothing but good news for the Raven.
“This is our choice, and this is the right move for this business and this group of people,” Caine said. “I think in a lot of ways, working at the Raven will be a more comfortable thing, and hopefully shopping in the Raven will be the same. We’re pausing to reflect, but I don’t think there’s a ton of mourning going on.”
The new Raven, which will host a soft opening from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today (Saturday), took over the building that most recently housed Blade and Timber, an axe-throwing business that was decimated by a fire in October 2019. Caine said the store was gutted — with the exception of the original tin ceilings and a piece of crown molding found in the basement — and the COVID-19 pandemic caused many delays in construction.
So much so, Caine said, that it was a little hard to imagine the time had finally come to make the transition.
“We had a staff meeting in the new space (Sunday) night that felt really joyful,” he said. “I think a lot of people were excited to see the new space … It’ll just be fun to have a busier store and welcome more people in. I hope it becomes more vibrant and we’re even more a central part of downtown Lawrence.”
The new store has roughly 50% more shopping space compared to the former location — 1,500 square feet compared to 1,000 — and will allow for a children’s section double the size of what Raven customers are used to. Store hours will also be expanded slightly from what customers may remember at the old location. It will open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Although Caine is excited about the hardwood floors, customized book shelves, welcoming green decor, and the new spot’s emphasis on displaying local art (including paintings of store cats Dashiell and Ngaio), there’s one feature of the location that was particularly important: accessibility.
“We’ve got steps to get in (the East Seventh Street store), which, frankly that’s been embarrassing to me for a long time. We talk a lot about how an independent bookstore needs to be a welcoming space and it’s been a blind spot,” he said. “And we’ve had a wheelchair ramp, but it’s not an ideal solution and so we’re happy to not only be an intellectually, emotionally welcoming space, but a physically welcoming space to go.”
“That was one of the main motivators for the move was to make it easier to get into the room for all people,” Caine added.
The new location will allow the Raven to continue a business method that took off during COVID-19 when the store was closed for browsing: online orders. Prior to the pandemic, Caine said, online book orders accounted for 1 to 2% of the Raven’s business, and during the pandemic it generated essentially 100% of the store’s revenue.
But since a return to in-person shopping has returned, online orders remain about 40% of the store’s business, he said. Because there wasn’t much storage or processing space for those online orders at the old location, Caine said most of it had to be done on the sales floor in front of customers.
That’s no longer the case, thanks to a dedicated space in the back of the new store equipped with two computers, one for receiving and one for processing those online product orders.
“We’ve had a pretty amazing show of support from across the country, and there are people all over and even all over the world that are interested in what we do and what we’re speaking for. And those people are still with us, even though we’re open for browsing,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty robust online community and I appreciate them sticking around and … now we have a much better way to serve them well, while maintaining a really beautiful browsing space for the people who are here.”
Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.