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The Traveling Notebooker’s/Bullet Journalist’s Guide to Harvard Square, Cambridge

The Traveling Notebooker’s/Bullet Journalist’s Guide to Harvard Square, Cambridge

Cambridge, Massachusetts is a lovely place to visit, and Harvard Square is a common destination for tourists and locals alike. If you happen to be there, certainly stroll around Harvard Yard, visit Harvard’s amazing museums (I especially like the Fogg, Sackler and Peabody), admire the architecture (I love Memorial Hall so much) and eat at one of the zillion interesting restaurants.

When you’re done with all that, it’s time for some bullet-journalist tourism! Here are the places to check out when you’re in the Square.

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Moleskine

35 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA

Even if you’re a Leuchtturm (or some other notebook) fan, a visit to the Moleskine store should satisfy some primal notebook joy centers in the brain. The store is narrow and sparklingly white, and packed to the gills with a lovely rainbow of Moleskine notebooks, pens, bags and other accessories. If they make a color or size, they’ll have it here, along with with a sale bin (quality of items varies), displays of some art and work done in Moleskine notebooks, and a knowledgable staff.


 

Bob Slate

Bob Slate Stationers

30 Brattle Street Cambridge, MA

Bob Slate is an old-school stationery shop. Although this location is not the original (which was far more old-attic like), it retains a certain bygone days charm. They have a fountain pen counter where you can ask a well-informed clerk about the different models and try them out, explore a wide variety of inks and nibs. There’s also tightly packed aisles of non-fountain pens, all kinds of notebooks and journals, ledgers, stationery and the all the other needs of the analog office.


 

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Black Ink

5 Brattle Street, Cambridge MA

Black Ink is probably my favorite store in the square. It’s not just stationery, but it is full of surprises, and the generally do carry a few notebook-y items worth the trip. They carry an assortment of Apica Japanese notebooks (usually paperback ones in smaller sizes) which have the most yummy paper — and take fountain pen ink really well. (You can also order a wider variety of this brand on Goulet Pens and Jet Pens). They also usually have XXXXXX Japanese ballpoint pens which I quite like. Sure, they’re just ballpoints, but they are crazy fine point, good for writing small or for occasions when you need a “regular” pen. You can also order refills for these in black, red and blue. They also usually have some Rhodia or Quattro paper products and then tons of little clever office supplies… clips and erasers and little sticky notes and bookmarks and novelty rubber bands and all manner of things. Often lots of stationery items imported from Japan that you don’t see elsewhere. Then, there’s the whole rest of the store, filled with neat stuff for your kitchen, a few high-quality kids’ toys, books and a well-curated selection of delightful bits and bobs.


 

The Harvard Coop

1400 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA

Just around the corner from Black Ink is the main entrance to the Coop (pronounced coop, like chicken coop, even thought it means coop like co-op/co-operative). Again, not a stationery store, per ser, but what bullet journalist doesn’t design in a huge bookstore? I’ve spent many an afternoon here browsing, drinking tea, and making notes.

The main bookstore is spread over 4 floors, replete with a café on level 2. While it’s stocked by Barnes and Noble these days, you’ll find a deeper selection that at your general mall version. They have a good selection of business books (including lots of Harvard Business School stuff) if you’re into that sort of thing, but also a whole floor of fiction, lots of art, crafts and cook books, pretty big YA and kids’ sections, et cetera. Everything you’d expect, but catering to the nerdy nerds of Cambridge.

In the notebook department, you’ll find a wide selection of Moleskines (including one’s with embossed Harvard insignias) and a large display of Shinola notebooks. There’s a section of other journals and notebooks as well, though I generally feel like these lean more towards the prefab “books I’ve read, wines I’ve drunk” sort along with volumes for journal-keeping.

Crossing the skybridge on the third floor, you access another building of the Coop which features three floors of office supplies, housewares and Harvard-wear for university students, along with the place where they buy their textbooks during the proper seasons.


Extra stops

Haven’t had enough? Here are a few bonus places you can visit:

  • Harvard bookstore another great, nerdy bookstore, with a fun selection of bargain and used books in the basement. They often have some good deals on art books.
    1256 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA
  • Papyrus This store is a chain card shop, and I’m much keener on the indie stuff, but you might find some interesting pens, stationery, notebooks or accessories in here.
    8 JFK St; Cambridge, MA
  • Anime Zakka If you’re into the Japanese “cute” scene and/or anime, this is a fun spot upstairs in The Garage (which, in and of itself is a cool sort of “alternative mall” which also features a record store, piercing places, hippie stores and a really good Vietnamese restaurant, amongst other things).
  • Staples Yeah, I know, it’s just a Staples, they’re everywhere. But if you happen to need one, there is on in the Square, and it’s novel for a Staples, in that it’s smooshed into a basement.
  • For your coffee or tea break, you might want to avoid the three (count ’em three!) Starbucks in the square and check out one of the quirky indie cafes. I would highly recommend:
    • Cafe Pomplona (traditional european-style espresso drinks)
    • Cafe Algiers (good regular, espresso and Arabic coffees, good Middle Eastern snacks)
    • Tealuxe (tiny amazing tea shop with a zillion varieties and a gorgeous interior and an Edwardian feel)
    • Burdicks (if you like hot chocolate, or any kind of chocolate, this is the place for you!)
    • Crema Café (not that quirky, but a convenient indie coffee stop in the middle of everything)
    • Dado Tea (tea, coffee and Korean snacks — a nice place to stop and do a little work and people-watch out the window)

Wrapping up

It’s slightly unlike me to write a post about shopping for it’s own sake. I’m not exactly the pro-consumerism type, and I don’t “go shopping” myself, just for fun as a thing when I don’t need or strongly want something. However, I do feel lucky to live near some very cool, historic areas that I would certainly come visit eagerly if I didn’t live here, and I figure, if you’re here, touristing, you should certainly come armed with a local’s knowledge of good notebook stores!

I like Harvard Square a lot. Beyond the shops, the architecture of Harvard is beautiful, the museums are amazing, and there are lots of lovely walks to take. Being around such a hotbed of intellectualism and traditions of scholarship and famous scholars pretty exciting (if you ask me!). In the 50s, 60s and 70s, beatniks and then hippies roamed the square and coffee houses alongside the professors and upright types. In the 80s, there were always scads of punks and goths hanging out in “The Pit” (i.e., the seating area next to the subway station), and although those days are gone for the most part, you’ll still get a whiff of the old, counter-culture Harvard Square most days. Although there are chain stores in the square now, independent culture and non-conformity still thrive there reasonably well.

Let me know if you come visit, and what your favorite part is!

Photo credits: Harvard Gates by Tim Sackton/Flickr; Harvard Bookstore sign by 6SN7/Flickr; Harvard Bookstore used book cellar by Connie Ma/Flickr; Café Pamplona exterior by Tess Heder/Flickr; Tealuxe (tea for all) by Thomas Global/Flickr; all other photos and videos by Annie.
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