Curious George is back, with more in store
Bookshop greets readers again, has new owners
CAMBRIDGE - The Man with the Yellow Hat and his inquisitive monkey put down roots in Massachusetts nearly two decades ago, after a trans-Atlantic trek took them from Paris to Lisbon to New York, and finally, into a Harvard Square bookstore.
But last May, in the throes of an ailing publishing industry, the Curious George & Friends bookstore was shuttered after 15 years, and - as if lifted away by the iconic hot air balloon from his eponymous children’s book series - the playful primate left Cambridge.
This weekend, he returned.
The Curious George Store, a revamped version of the bookshop that sells apparel, toys, and other trinkets alongside volumes of the illustrated book series, opened under new ownership Saturday, drawing throngs of customers in the first two days.
“We were all really sad and fearful there would be another big-box store,’’ said Heidi Legg, of Cambridge, as she clutched her 6-year-old son, Ford. “You’re in Cambridge, so there’s no lack of demand for books. You’re in Cambridge - books are what we do.’’
Inside, books lined the walls of the small, crowded shop. An army of Curious George dolls, in yellow and red T-shirts, sat atop the shelves, below a mural of the monkey and his safari-suited caretaker suspended over a city skyline by a rainbow of balloons. In the center of the store were racks bearing branded T-shirts, slickers, and other apparel.
Margret and Hans Augusto Rey, who wrote and illustrated the children’s series, arrived in New York shortly after fleeing Nazi-occupied Paris on bicycles - the manuscript for “Curious George’’ tucked in their bags. In 1963, they left their flat in Greenwich Village and settled in Cambridge, where they lived out their days. Hans, who went by H.A. Rey, died in August 1977. Margret died in December 1996.
Adam Hirsch, the store’s new owner, said his three children, who grew up watching the animated “Curious George’’ television series and reading the books, were excited when he and his wife purchased the boarded-up store, hoping to start a successful business.
“They were thrilled to death, it was like Daddy works in Disney World,’’ he said.
He said NBCUniversal and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the companies that own the rights to the Curious George brand, negotiated a licensing deal, but he declined to give details of the agreement.
Many were nostalgic as they thumbed through books and dug through piles of plush stuffed animals.
“I came here when I was young,’’ said Christine Marujo, of Somerville, whose 6-year-old daughter, Olivia, stared longingly at the basket of a large hot air balloon carrying George and looming above newcomers as they entered. “So many people love this.’’ But not everyone was happy with some changes in the new store.
The old shop focused on books and felt more authentic, said Sarah Moses of Somerville. The vast array of branded merchandise - the wide selection of products and ubiquity of the monkey brand call to mind the leisurely stick figures of the Life is good brand - will appeal more to tourists, she said.
To boot, the new owners converted the subterranean section of the store into an office, making the shop much smaller.
“It’s so hard to walk around,’’ she said. “The last was almost entirely books, with a register in the center and many more toys.’’
But Hirsch said he hopes the store, though different, will become an even more prominent landmark in the neighborhood, where the mayor cut a ribbon stretched across Brattle and John F. Kennedy streets to mark the store’s grand opening Saturday.
To help bolster that image, he said he plans to build a 30-foot yellow hat above the store in the coming year.
“I want to pass someone on the street on a cellphone and hear them say, ‘Let’s meet under the yellow hat,’ ’’ he said. “We want to create a visceral connection.’’