The Jeffery Amherst Bookshop, RIP
Posted by: Misha Stone
This week I learned that the bookshop where I got my first job after college is closing. The Jeffery Amherst Bookshop will be closing its doors this year after its owners, Howard and Joy Gersten, approaching their 80s, finally retire.
The Jeffery Amherst Bookshop and College Store, situated on Pleasant Street, across from the lovely greenspace in Amherst, Massachusetts, was a plum of the independent bookselling world. It was cozy, and its wooden shelves gave it the feel of a cabin stocked to the gills with treasures. The Gerstens hired people who loved to talk about books and that made the bookstore beloved in the community.
I worked in the College Store as an Assistant Textbook Buyer and academic books buyer. For the two years I was there, in Fall and Winter semester, I trained the “rushies,” the temporary workers hired to receive the textbooks and help the floods of students find their assigned course texts for Amherst College, UMASS and Hampshire College. It was fun, exciting and stressful work. I still remember trudging into the snow to lug heavy Ingram boxes into the shop. I remember fondly the wine and cheese readings for the Amherst and UMASS professors. But most of all I remember the thrill of working with books and readers, of working with others who shared my passion for the written word.
Amherst also happened to be a place where literature was in the air, and not just because of the ghost of Emily Dickinson. I saw poets like James Tate and Dara Wier walking the streets. Everyone had stories of run-ins with literary greats. My friend Drew told me about the time Norton Juster, author of the children’s classic The Phantom Tollbooth, came in to the bookshop. Drew said to him, “When I was a kid The Phantom Tollbooth was my favorite book.” Juster replied, “Why isn’t it your favorite book now?” Drew also used to steal the poetry (and money) left on Emily Dickinson’s grave by admirers, and I think Drew has moved back to the area, so fans beware!
But The Jeffery Amherst Bookshop will also have a place in my heart for a much more personal reason: it’s where I met my husband. And strangely enough, when we moved to Seattle and started working in a bookstore together (again), we met another Jeffery Amherst alum. It is a small world, indeed.
Where would book groups be without independent bookstores? I cannot imagine a world without them. They change our lives one book at a time. Here’s a toast to a happy retirement for the Gerstens and to a bookshop that will be missed by many customers in Amherst and beyond.