Trident Booksellers & Cafe provides community on Newbury street


Books greet customers at the Trident Booksellers, along with its full-service cafe. Photo credit Kate Armanini.

Kate Armanini, news staff

Every day dozens of people from various backgrounds come together inside Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street, all united by one thing: their love of books.

“It’s comfortable, warm and welcoming, and often a place where unexpected connections happen,” said Kimberly Flynn, Trident’s director of marketing and merchandising.. “Books are the glue of what holds our community together.”

Flynn is the daughter-in-law of Trident’s founders. In 2018, she decided to invest more of her time in the business. 

Founded in 1984 by Bernie Flynn and Gail Flynn, Trident is one of the few independent bookstores in Boston. Today, just 4,000 remain across the country, according to Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, or ABA. The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly damaging to the industry — in June 2020, 20% were in danger of closing, she added.

“Stores came out of 2020 wrecked from the experience,” Hill said.

Despite the financial hardship, visitors at Trident tell another story. Upstairs, up to 60 people dine in the activity room and wait for trivia night, a weekly activity at Trident, to begin. The hum of the crowd dies down when events and social media coordinator Allison Scharmann taps the mic. 

“Question number one: in what year did the first Oscar ceremony take place?” Scharmann said on the Feb. 11 trivia night.

Each team deliberated before furiously scribbling down their answers. The large crowd trivia saw on Feb. 11 may seem atypical, but it’s business as usual for Trident. The bookstore’s weekly events draw in people from all over Boston. 

“I love this event,” said Olivia Komosinski, a Trident customer and marketing consultant for Frank Melville Memorial Park.“Discovering it is one of my most coveted achievements in my post-grad adulthood.”

But it’s not just the events and books that keep people coming back. The store’s cafe features a full, all-day brunch and dinner menu. Its offerings include breakfast burritos, burgers, teas and coffees.

At the front of the store, Ting Zhang waited to pick up her takeout dinner. Zhang said she was taking advantage of one of Trident’s deals: a free, surprise book with any takeout meal. She has been coming to the store for over 10 years. 

“This is my favorite book store in Boston,” Zhang said. “It’s just a happy place for people to hang out and check out stuff.”

The cafe makes each customer’s visit “more of an experience, rather than a transaction,” Flynn said. 

Flynn said the store was founded to be a “third place,” for customers to relax and connect with others other than at home or work. 

“You might sit down with a cup of coffee and flip through a new book that you have just discovered and maybe you’ll connect with someone at the next table, or as you’re shopping around the store,” Flynn said. 

Trident also hosts poetry open mic nights, speed friending, as well as more traditional author Q&As. A more recent addition is the writing group, also run by Scharmann.

A recent Harvard University graduate, Scharmann is taking a break after school to pursue what she loves: reading, writing and spending time with people. Scharmann said the decision to start the writing group was an easy one as an aspiring author. 

“People are making friends at these events, and also creating and sharing really wonderful work,” Scharmann said. “It’s super cool to have that be my job.”

For trivia night, Scharmann said she writes the questions herself.

“I think I did a round about rats recently,” she said. 

Customers and trivia night participants Isabel Porter and Moira Train were having a meal in the cafe, seated at one of the booths. Porter said she and Train are childhood friends who continue to keep their friendship alive. One of the ways they do that is by attending Trident’s trivia nights.

“We grew up together, so we do something like this each week to see each other again,” Porter said. “I just love that you have a cafe and a bookstore. It’s just such a casual, cool vibe.” 

Yet for so many independent bookstores, including Trident, a state of uncertainty remains the status quo. 

“With any small business, you are always thinking about the future,” Flynn said. “As long as we stay true to ourselves and our business model, we feel pretty confident about the years ahead.”

Not only are independent bookstores tailored to their local readers, they are critical in the local economy, more effective at promoting authors in marginalized communities and often have philanthropic initiatives, according to the ABA. They are “truly mission-driven cultural centers” in their communities, Hill said.

Scharmann said she agrees to the mission-driven purpose of local, independent bookstores.

“We’re doing this because we want people who love books, and love independent bookstores and their community,” Scharmann said. “We want them to meet other people who feel the same way.”