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Adams House Senior Common Room
Dog owner Louisa Solano, 68, said she loves Park Spark, though she thought it was ¡§just a wonderful piece of sculpture, you know, modern art¡¨ when she first saw it.
Dog owner Louisa Solano, 68, said she loves Park Spark, though she thought it was "just a wonderful piece of sculpture, you know, modern art" when she first saw it.
Louisa Solano first walked into a dusty Grolier Poetry Shop, nestled on tree-lined Plympton Street, when she was 15 years old.Used books were piled on a couch, along with the store owner's mail.Despite the disarray, she immediately fell in love with the shop. "Someday I am going to own this store," she said to herself."When I told my mother that she said, be careful what you wish for, you might get it." After owning the store for 31 years, Solano sold the poetry shop on Friday to a philosophy professor at Wellesley College. The sale ensures that the poetry shop, a 79-year-old Harvard Square institution that has struggled financially over the past decade, will survive. THE SHOW WILL GO ON During her career, Solano said she turned a gathering place for poets and college students into a viable bookstore that now has over 15,000 poetry titles. "I had to turn into a viable store so I could keep the doors open, and decided to specialize in poetry," she said. When Ifeanyi A. Menkiti, a professor at Wellesley College, offered to buy the store from Solano, she was thrilled to have someone carry on the store's legacy. "I thought it was the most perfect match," she said."He is probably the one person I know who can carry it effectively." During the past year, Solano realized that she could not go on as the single owner and manager of the store.Because of her fragile health, Solano was only able to keep the shop open for about four out of the past 12 months, she said. "I have epilepsy and it just has gotten somewhat out of control," Solano said.Her doctors said that her health would improve if she left behind the stress of her job."I had to make a choice between my shop and my health.I chose my health," she said. The poetry shop is indebted to Harvard Real Estate, according to Solano, for being extremely lenient in terms of rent.Two years ago she was afraid she would have to declare the shop bankrupt. "They have been absolutely wonderful to me over the past ten years, through all of my various illnesses and accidents," she said. Solano said she fully endorses Menkiti's goal of broadening the international poetry selection. "His intentions are realty exciting.He is trying to bring in more influences, which is really great," she said. Under Solano, the shop had Saturday afternoon coffee hours when customers are encouraged "to stay around and talk," Solano said. LOUISA'S POETIC LICENSE The Grolier Poetry Shop was founded in 1927 by Gordon Cairnie and Adrian Gambet, but Solano took the helm in 1974, when Cairnie died. Solano was asked to submit several poems for consideration for a memorial book that was made in the late owner's memory, but she was intimidated by the notion at the time that women could not write poetry. "When women came out with poetry books, they never got fair treatment," she said."They were called over-emotional." Although she sent in several poems to be considered for the book, she was "too afraid to open to envelope" she received in return, and her poems have never appeared in print. "When I opened [the envelope] 20 years later, they were asking my permission to publish," she laughed. Now that she has given over leadership of the store, she said she wants to write more and maybe finally get published.She has been asked by many people to write a memoir. "I might write a very gossipy, fictionalized, novel about the poetry community."She joked, "I am sure they will make a movie out of it." A member of the Adams House Senior Common Room, Solano has also organized about a dozen poetry readings each semester that are free for Adams residents. Solano said she has appreciated every moment she spent at the shop and in Adams House. "I have been incredibly happy for these 31 years," Solano said."It's been a wonderful life.". TURNING BACK THE CLOCK Born and raised in Cambridge, Solano said she has seen it transformed from a quiet "subdued" city to the touristy commercial center it is today. "I think Plympton Street is the most beautiful street in the world," she said.Solano recalled that places like Grolier's, which encourages discussion as well as commerce, used to be more abundant in the Square. The cafeterias that used to line the Square's streets were centers for students, artists, poets, and writers to meet and discuss issues of the day, she said. One such shop, Bailey's, "made the most delicious hot fudge sauce you ever tasted in your life," she said. Of Hayes-Bickford Cafeteria, which has since been replaced by the Chinese restaurant Yenching, she said: "It was great fun.It was stimulating, you could hang out in for hours.You could always bet that there was an argument going on of some kind." Across the street from Grolier's was a barbershop."As a teenager, I learned to read the clock backwards because there was a mirror in our store through which you could see the clock in the barber shop across the street," Solano said. When she became the store's owner, she renovated it to include, among other things, ceiling-high shelves and a clock of its own. "My only wish," she said, "is that I had more money so I could have developed it more than I did."
Since its founding in 1927, the Grolier has had only three owners--Gordon Cairnie, Louisa Solano, and Menkiti.
Louisa Solano of Cambridge, Mass., hugs a dog while she and her dog Macedo, left, visit a dog park in Cambridge
In this Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010 photo, Louisa Solano of Cambridge, Mass., hugs a dog while she and her dog Macedo, left, visit a dog park in Cambridge. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds) Dog owner Louisa Solano, 68, said she loves Park Spark, though she thought it was "just a wonderful piece of sculpture, you know, modern art" when she first saw it.