Floor-to-ceiling glass and an inviting community-centered social enterprise bookstore has replaced what was an imposing brick façade on East Berkeley Street that once housed the Medieval Manor dinner theatre – as the expanded More Than Words organization opened its doors for a new bookstore and warehouse in the building Monday.
With a neon sign touting the More Than Words logo, and books lined up through the front, with other social enterprise products and an impressive community space in the back, the longtime youth-led book business opened up its long-awaited expansion on Monday.
It’s first customer, conveniently, was Mark Touhey – a board member of the organization and chief of staff at Liberty Mutual, a major benefactor of the organization.
“I’d say today for me is a combination of pride and hopefulness,” he said, after buying the first book from the store. “The thing that’s amazing to me is the community that’s grown with those who work at More Than Words. They’ve found a need and a platform for a commercial success to share with the young people who work here and benefit from it.”
As a token of gratitude to Liberty Mutual for their support, the bookstore will be called the Liberty Bookstore.
More Than Word has been in the East Berkeley building for some time, but operated from a smaller space on the second floor. Using books sold online and in the store, it is an organization that seeks to employ at-risk youth in a business that actually makes money and operates efficiently with clear-cut goals. As part of working there, the young people (usually ages 17 to 22) have to commit to a program of personal betterment and discipline – something that turns around many lives and helps the young people to graduate from the business and seek out success.
One of those young people is Mehki Jordan, who has worked at More Than Words for about a year and has seen the evolution of the old store to the new one. On opening day, he was at the front door welcoming in the first customers.
“I’ve seen it being built in the last year,” he said. “We helped put together the store. Everything you see we had a hand in. Whether it was building the shelves or placing the books, we all had a hand in that. What I like about it is the mission of More Than Words is 100 percent there. It’s not like something that they say is happening, but isn’t. It’s really happening. It’s changed my life.”
Jordan is going to school in October, and hopes to study medical management, business and acting. It’s a place he didn’t think he would ever be at.
Growing up in Roxbury, he said he developed a habit of drinking and saw a lot of bad things that he began to think were normal – though they weren’t. Once he got his life together, and got his GED, he was referred to More Than Words. Now, he is excited to be the friendly face that welcomes customers to the store.
“They took me in and made it more than a job,” he said. “There’s nowhere on the planet where they’ll teach you what they teach here. I want this store to succeed 100 percent. I want to see people in here every day and forming a new community. I want it to change the community. I want to have customers come in and they know my first name and I know theirs. I think it can really succeed.”
Opposite the bookstore, on the first floor, is a revamped warehouse space where they process the books that they ship out – all visible to passers-by through giant glass windows.
Also notable is that the warehouse outside of Boston has now been moved to the second floor of the building. Meanwhile, the loading dock has been moved to the back and the side of the building, meaning that More Than Words trucks will rarely have to block East Berkeley Street to load and unload.
Founders of More Than Words say they see the store as filling a gap in the ‘Missing Middle’ of the South End. While there are things in Ink Block and further down in SoWa, there isn’t anything where the community can gather socially on East Berkeley Street.
Jodi Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of More Than Words, said the opening was more than just a new chapter for the organization but the ability to expand the opportunity to more youth.
“It’s not just the opening of a store but the opportunity for more young people to work and for us to engage in helping them to gain the confidence and skills to be successful in life and in everything they do. That’s what this is – a platform for that…and for selling great books too.”
Certainly, with the cozy new store, that shouldn’t be a problem.