By Gary Lloyd
On the corner of Washington and School streets in Boston, where the most notable of all American Renaissance authors gathered and discussed their books, you can now swing open the historic doors, make your way to the front counter, and request roasted chili-corn salsa on your $8 burrito.
The Old Corner Bookstore, constructed in 1718 as a residence and first a bookstore in 1828, is now a Chipotle Mexican Grill, and has been at least five years. It was when I first visited Boston in 2016. The Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half-mile path through Boston’s history, was my favorite part. I stood in the Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere rests. I also walked through his preserved home on the North Square. I touched the bricks of the Old State House and Old North Church. I saw, up close, an original box of tea that was dumped into the Boston Harbor in 1773. Imagine my shock when I made my way to the Old Corner Bookstore location, which smelled not of sweet, yellowed pages, but of hot queso.
Thoreau, Emerson, Dickens, Stowe, Hawthorne and Longfellow all set foot here, put out their books and poems here. What a decision it must have been back then, if you had just enough coins in your pocket for one book, to choose between Walden and The Scarlet Letter, to select Uncle Tom’s Cabin over Paul Revere’s Ride.
Now, you must decide between pinto and black beans, brown rice or white.
I love bookstores, especially if they have some age on them. Those are harder to find nowadays, due in large part to the advent of eBooks and audiobooks, and I suppose taco salad. Still, I peruse the biography section in Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. Some of my books are available at DeDe’s Book Rack in Trussville, a wonderful bookstore. I enjoyed my time in Homewood bookstores, signing books at the Alabama Booksmith and playing Hangman on scratch paper at the Little Professor.
I nose through the minimal selections at Target and Sam’s Club, like a dog searching for a treat lost under the couch. My favorite local bookstore to visit is 2nd & Charles in Hoover, where I can fill a chest freezer full of stories and barely break a $50 bill. I go to these bookstores to fill my shelves, to find inspiration for my own writing, to go inside a brick-and-mortar instead of scrolling Amazon from the bed at 10 p.m. again.
Now that my interest in the classics, in the words of Thoreau and Emerson — and the history of Boston — has strengthened in the five years since I first visited Beantown, I’d love to head north back to Washington Street, to take in that Old Corner Bookstore history. I guess I’ll order the chicken burrito.
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.