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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Newtonville Books owner closing a chapter

NEWTON

Tim Huggins, a Mississippi native who built a small independent bookstore near the Massachusetts Turnpike into an unexpected literary powerhouse west of Boston loved by readers and writers alike, announced this week that he is selling the store to a former employee and her husband.

Over the eight years he ran Newtonville Books, the 38-year-old Huggins billed his store as "eclectic" and his customers found that it was not an exaggeration. The smallish storefront shop in the imposing Newtonville Masonic Lodge building on Walnut Street has minimal signage on its shelves and was designed for unhurried browsing and consulting with Huggins and his young but highly-literate staff. One of those former staffers, literary journal publisher Mary Cotton cq, will be the new owner along with her husband.

To conserve space, Huggins decommissioned one of the store's two bathrooms and filled it with books suited for bathroom reading. To cement the shop's reputation as an authors' bookstore, Huggins hosted more than 100 author events a year, mostly at his award-winning "Books & Brews" series, holding readings in a space that was once the Masonic horse stable and then inviting authors and audience alike to local restaurants for an informal discussion over drinks afterward.

Newtonville Books has also collaborated with Globe West and Boston.com in a podcast of author events called "Great Writers."

Huggins said earlier this week that his decision to open a companion children's bookstore, The Lizard's Tale, in a connected space, created a business with a lot of growth potential but one that demanded more time than he could give.

"It is just the right time for me and for the store," Huggins said. "I felt that the store needed something from me that I couldn't provide and this was the only way that I could save it and the eight years of work that I've put in."

Cotton is also publisher and managing editor of the literary magazine Post Road, which was founded by her husband, Jaime Clark cq, who will bbe the co-owner.

Huggins said that the couple, who met at the bookstore, plan to preserve the aspects of the store that made it a popular with both readers and writers, including Newton's sizeable population of authors. Best-selling writer Anita Diamant ("The Red Tent") and Globe reporter and author Charlie Pierce("Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything") didn't necessarily walk to the store to do their Newtonville Books readings last year -- but they could have.

"Tim is a hero of mine," Diamant said in a telephone interview. "He bucked all the business advice and opened a bookstore in a place that needed a bookstore, and made it into one that people love."

In a press release, Cotton said the bookstore will reopen today and that, in the future, she and Clark will add a customer loyalty program, discounts on select titles, and writing workshops. The couple is exploring the idea of a film series of movies based on books.

-- Ralph Ranalli

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