Not long ago I was walking up Tremont Street past the Boloco on the corner—you know, the one full of Emerson undergrads and suits escaped from the state house for a stroll across the Common—when I noticed a plaque situated to the left of the glass door. Edgar Allan Poe, I learned, was born near this spot, on Carver Street in 1809.
Now, I’m not entirely against a chain that provides a "summer" burrito all year long. Those diced mangos embedded inside have gotten me through more than one long, cold New England winter. But as I perused the plaque outside Boloco’s door, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the site where one of America’s great literary lights came into being deserved a little more recognition. I don’t know exactly what I wanted. Maybe the chain would consider naming this particular branch Poeloco, or, in the least, serve a "Tell Tale Taco."
In 1827, Poe’s plaque informed me as the smell of sizzling beef lured me toward the door, Poe published his first book, Tamerlane and other Poems, at "a shop on the corner of Washington and State Streets." That shop on the corner, I knew, was the Old Corner Bookstore. I also knew that if I were to walk across the Common to the corner of Washington and School Streets, I would no longer find a bookstore. There would be a plaque—and there would be more burritos. The Old Corner Bookstore is now a Chipotle.
One might expect the author whose most famous word is ”Nevermore” and who died an obscure and lonely death in the back streets of Baltimore to slip into obscurity. But the Old Corner Bookstore was at the heart of America’s early literary scene, run by James T. Fields and William Davis Ticknor, prominent nineteenth-century booksellers who published not only Poe, but Hawthorne, Lowell, Longfellow (yes, it would make a great burrito name, but I’m serious now), even Emerson and Thoreau.
Now we eat tacos there?
Booksmith thanks you for your loyal patronage to our bookstore and reminds you that there are no less than two Anna’s Taquerias and a Boca Grande within walking distance of the store. Boston doesn’t need more consumer-driven chains, but we could use a few more literary sites—past and present—places that are more than plaques, spaces where we can feed on something more satisfying than any burrito, the sustenance of a vibrant literary community.