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The Odyssey Bookshop was established in 1963 by Romeo Grenier, a French-Canadian immigrant who arrived in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1923 at the age of thirteen. Despite a limited high school education, he became a passionate reader, buying a book a week. In 1935 he became a pharmacist, and in 1957 he bought Glesmann’s Pharmacy across the street from Mount Holyoke College, one of the Seven Sisters and the first women’s college in the United States.
Soon Glessie’s, as it was affectionately known by town-and-gown, became a literary gathering place. The soda fountain, booths, and especially the round table were filled with students, faculty, and townspeople often engaged in spirited discussions about books and current events. Romeo decided to move the toothpaste and aspirin aside to create a book department at the front of the drugstore. He began this new adventure with 500 Penguin titles. But it did not stop there, and five years later Mount Holyoke College asked Romeo to open a full-fledged bookshop. Thus, in November of 1963, with the help of the Mount Holyoke community, boxes of books were moved several buildings over to the Odyssey Bookshop.
During the next two decades, the Odyssey became known throughout Massachusetts as a unique place to look for books. But in the 1980's the store suffered two major fires. With the help of Mount Holyoke College, many generous members of the community, and a dedicated staff, we rebuilt. In 1991, the ownership of the business passed to Romeo’s daughter, Joan Grenier, who oversaw the re-location of the shop to its present location as the anchor store of the Village Commons. In 1998, Neil Novik joined the business as co-owner, bringing his expertise in the crime fiction genre, management, and technology.
The Odyssey continues to be a vital part of the Mount Holyoke College community. In 2001, the Odyssey won a contract from the college to provide the books for all courses and in 2003 started carrying art supplies required for the college’s art studio courses. In addition, many of the Odyssey’s events are planned in conjunction with college faculty, student organizations, and departments.
We have also kept up with the growth of book E-tailing, with the development of a full service website, www.odysseybks.com, offering customers the opportunity to order books 24 hours a day. We believe that many customers need to look at, touch and feel a book before they buy, so being a ‘clicks and mortar’ store can afford them the best of both worlds.
We have also lived up to our goal of bringing readers and writers together, with a literary event schedule including more than 125 events a year for adults and children, and attended by thousands of people annually. In addition, in 2001, we initiated the Signed First Edition Club. Each month, club members receive a signed First Edition of a newly published book selected by the Odyssey for its literary merit and potential collectibility. The club now boasts over 265 members.
The Odyssey Bookshop is proud of its history and its continuing role in community life. This year we are celebrating our 59th anniversary and expect to celebrate many more in the years to come.