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Remembering Booksmith Founder Marshall Smith, 1931-2022
May 10th, 2022
Dear Brookline Booksmith Community,
It is with great sadness that we report that Marshall Smith has passed away this beautiful spring morning. A great man, sweetheart, dad, son, brother, uncle, friend, creative spirit, and legendary retail entrepreneur.
Marshall absolutely loved the Booksmith, and what a gift to Brookline and our community. It was 1961 when he and Judy Smith decided that the burgeoning publication of serious literature, both fiction and non-fiction, in a paperback format, provided the opportunity to reach a whole new audience of potential readers. He left his Wall Street job when he was 29 years old and opened what they called the Paperback Booksmith. They were at the forefront of what Publisher's Weekly called the Paperback Revolution.
As he said, "Over the decades the Booksmith was filled with drama, outrage, sadness, excitement and great changes in the world of civilizations: The Civil Rights Movement; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the Black Panthers; the Hippy upheaval; the Vietnam War, assassinations of MLK, RFK; the Watergate Scandal and more...and that's just the first decade. We reflected on all of that. We were always socially active, eager to learn and change." Marshall went to court many times to defend their right to sell banned books and their author's creative freedoms. In many ways, it is these roots that helped the Brookline Booksmith become a cultural center for the Town of Brookline and eventually Greater Boston.
He was proud of how the Booksmith knocked out Barnes and Noble who opened a larger store less than two blocks from us; he faced up to Amazon, who helped close 60% of the independent bookstores in the country - but not us. When the great Pandemic of 2020 hit Booksmith's revenues went to near zero. For many months our future was shaky, but he was beaming with pride as the Brookline community stepped up; we were able to retain our staff and even expand.
Marshall was one of the greatest readers of all time. For decades he would read three or four books at a time. It was quite astonishing. Two weeks before he passed he was proud that he read Moby Dick...again - "It's 850 pages you know!" - while also reading a non-fiction account of early Boston leaders. On his reading stand today sits a Ken Follett novel open to page 699. Just 103 pages to go.
Marshall leaves us saddened and appreciative. He was a gift to our community and left us the legacy of his creative spirit, the Brookline Booksmith.
As he said when he retired, "I'll see you all in the aisles."
Thank you, Marshall Smith - a creative man, civil rights activist, bold entrepreneur, family man, wonderful dad, caring partner, and generous friend.
With love and gratitude,
President and Co-Owner