Books you will want in a place you will love: New location of The Raven bookstore opens at the Mill in Shelburne Falls

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-23-2023 2:44 PM

John Petrovato thinks that successful bookstores can be anywhere. 

“People love traveling for a good bookstore,” Petrovato said. 

With this idea, Petrovato went on a search for a year, looking for the perfect remote location for his new shop. He settled on the Mill building in Shelburne Falls, which has lots of space to grow, for the newest installation of his bookstore, The Raven, which is set to open July 7. 

Petrovato fell into the trade accidentally. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I found this,” he said. “Now I will probably die in a bookstore.” 

He became enthralled by books while he was in college, and began selling books he found at library book sales as a side hustle while working as a social worker in New Jersey. 

His band would travel across the northeast for shows, and when they came to western Massachusetts, he would bring his books to sell for some extra cash. At this time, during the 1990s, the now-famous Bookmill in Montague had just opened and the owner offered Petrovato a job so he could learn the ins and outs of the trade. 

Within two years, Petrovato and a business partner had purchased the store from his boss, and his career in bookstores flourished. He then went on to open The Raven in Northampton, opening a separate branch in Amherst, and then moving that branch to Harvard Square in Cambridge. 

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The Cambridge installment of The Raven is widely popular. Petrovato says that store alone sells about 1,200 titles a week. “I’m exhausted from Harvard Square; I want to open a more community-minded spot,” he said. 

So Cambridge is coming to Shelburne Falls, slowly. Petrovato has 85,000 books in storage and is filling the newly made shelves of the Mill shop. As the Shelburne Falls location opens, the Cambridge location will start to close and even more books will migrate to the new location. 

Petrovato lives in Wilmington, Vermont, but used to live in Conway and knows the area well. His children attend The Academy at Charlemont.

With the move to Shelburne Falls, Petrovato is ready for some slower-paced bookselling. “I owned the Bookmill at age 27, let’s see how much energy I have in me this time around,” he said. 

Petrovato described the new store as a “beautiful space.” There is a lawn in the back that looks out at a unique view of the Shelburne Falls Potholes. The old mill building has high brick walls and plenty of space for his expansive collection. 

He said there are about 18,000 titles on the shelves in the new location. “No junk. All carefully selected,” he pointed out. 

When asked about the rumors of the struggling independent bookstore market, Petrovato beat down the question, saying book sales have always been strong. “Books continue to do great… people like bookstores and the physical book,” he said.

He plans to do no advertising or social media for the new store, and let word of mouth drive the business. 

Petrovato said the titles will be the draw of the store, which has great poetry, fiction, academic and a world-famous philosophy section. 

There will be a space for music and readings that can fit about 70 people and a self-serve cafe to start. Petrovato said he may expand the store to a second level and an adjacent room to allow for more titles and larger events. 

Regular hours for the bookstore are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A party for the opening will take place on Friday, July 7 at 6 p.m. The next day the Mill will participate in the Porch Music Festival as one of the sponsors. Mo's Fudge Factor will also be opening a new location at the Mill for the summer at the hose house in the center of the complex.

“This is more than a job; it’s a nice existence to be in a space where people come to you,” Petrovato said.

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