What was the first bookstore in Boston? We’ll start with some fun facts from When in Boston: A Time Line & Almanac:
1670: “According to Winsor, ‘the town, or possibly the colony, established in Boston a collection of books for public use sometime before te Indian outbreak of 1675.’ He speculates that this library was probably the repository of the ‘ancient books’ described as being destroyed when the Town House burned in 1747.”
1677: “Henry Phillips opens a bookshop under the stairs of the Town House.”
So what was the Town House? It existed on the spot where the Old State House exists today (at the spot of the Boston massacre, and where you get the Orange and Blue Line…AND where the wonderful roasted nut guy is!). We found this from The Story of the Old Boston Town House:
The steps which led from the street to the floor of the Town House at the west end left a space under them which was available for a shop and as the townsmen were thrifty folk they soon began to use this space for revenue. … In 1677 Henry Phillips opened a book shop the stairs at the west end of the Town House in Taylor shop. Here he published and sold one of Mather’s sermons:
Renewal of Covenant the great Duty incumbent on or distressed Churches A sermon Concerning Renewing of Covenant with God in Christ Preached at Dorchester in New England the 21 day of the 1 month 1677 being a day of Humiliation there on that Occasion By Increase Mather Teacher of Church in Boston. Printed by JF for Henry and are to be sold at his Shop in the West end of the Townhouse in Boston 1677. …
Benjamin Eliot appears to have had a book shop under the west end of the Town House in 1699. The Acts and Laws of His Majesties Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England states on its title page that it was printed for and sold by Michael Perry at his shop over against the Town House and Benjamin Eliot under the West End of the Town House 1699. On June 28 1703 the record shows that the town granted to Benj Eliot the Shop under the Town House formerly Let to John Howard Scribener deceased for the Term of Seven years from this day at 40 Shill p annum June 28th ye dementions are wth inside 9 foot 8 inches in length & 4 foot l inches in breadth. …
The Town House thus became the centre of the printing publishing and book selling business of the town. About thirty booksellers were located in its immediate vicinity some of their shops being under the Town House itself others opposite either on the street in which the Town House stood or on the Corn Hill between Prison Lane and the meeting house which stood where the Rogers Building on Washington Street now stands.