Brattle Book Shop owner, Ken Gloss, has said that one of the most impressive volumes to pass through his hands was a first edition of The Great Gatsby, signed by F. Scott Fitzgerald and inscribed to “the greatest living poet, T.S. Eliot.” He has also encountered a customer who eats Bible pages, J. D. Salinger on the hunt for an obscure author, and a man who has visited the shop with such regularity over the last fifty years that he calls in sick on days when he’s unable to make it. Such are the varied benefits of being the proprietor of one of the oldest bookstores in the country.
The Brattle Book Shop dates back to 1825. It was not until 1949, however, that it entered the Gloss family, when it was purchased by Ken’s father, George Gloss. Ken took over in the early 1970s, following his father’s illness. Despite its venerability, the store’s history has been anything but smooth. The Brattle Book Shop, named for its original location on the now defunct Brattle Street, was forced to move several times in the sixties. For a few years, it shared a building with a man who ran a card shop and sold illegal drugs on other floors. In 1980, its original location on West Street burned to the ground, creating what is now the famous outdoor book lot, with carts of $1, $3, and $5 books. With donations, the shop was able to move into the storefront next door and reopen in less than a month. In the early 2000s, however, a crane fell through the outdoor area.
The Brattle Book Shop has gained a reputation for the breadth of inventory they are able to carry—everything from cheap paperbacks in their outdoor lot and first two floors, to antique and rare books on the top floor. They even rent books for movie sets and “short term projects.” Ken and other members of staff visit estate sales almost every day, buying between 5,000 and 30,000 books, which contributes to their stock of over 250,000 items, including maps and ephemera.