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February 26,2017

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Amazon gives customers a peek at its first Mass. bookstore

DEDHAM — Can Amazon build a better bookstore?

The online retailer — which began as a Web-only seller of books, before branching out into computers, clothes, and other goods — held a preview of its first brick-and-mortar store in Massachusetts on Saturday at the Legacy Place mall.

The Dedham store, with about 5,800 square feet, was packed Saturday afternoon, with a turnout that may have been helped by unseasonably warm weather. The store will officially open Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

The new store looks much like a traditional bookstore. You’ll find sections for cookbooks, travel guides, and fiction. But other sections are based on Amazon’s years of accumulating data on which titles people look at and buy through its website, from its Goodreads ebook platform, and user reviews, said Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books.

“If you’re in a smaller store, you want every book to be a great book,” Cast said.

Amazon Books also offers Kindle ebook readers, Fire TV streaming devices, and Echo speakers, which allows users to control compatible electronics with voice commands.

The store is the retailer’s first on the East Coast, and joins locations in Amazon’s home base of Seattle and in San Diego. Another local store is being planned for Lynnfield’s MarketStreet mall later this year, while locations are being considered in other US cities.

It’s not surprising that Amazon is looking to add more brick-and-mortar stores, said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. He said retailers are facing a changing market and customers want the option of buying products from either a website or a physical store.

He compared Amazon’s move to the business model of L.L. Bean, which once relied on mail-order sales and a single store in Maine, before opening a retail chain and selling its products online.

“You have to give Amazon credit. They have had a great business model and they are evolving to further serve the customer,” said Hurst.

At the Dedham store Saturday, Kathy Heisinger watched as her daughter, Meaghan Siekman, and 16-month-old grandson poured over a big, brightly colored picture book on tractor-trailer trucks.

Heisinger was visiting from Schenectady, N.Y. The family of book lovers was intrigued by the new store. “We had to come in to look around,” she said.

Emma Cohen of Brighton, who was perusing cookbooks Saturday, said she usually shops online but being able to hold a book before buying it is important for her. “I miss going to a bookstore,” she said.

Holly Davenport of Norfolk said she wanted to dislike the store because Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has an “unfair advantage” as a retailer, but she said she liked the choices she saw Saturday and said she was considering a purchase.

“I feel terrible,” Davenport joked, comparing Bezos to Genghis Khan for Amazon’s effect on small stores. “I may feel guilty when I go home, and may not be able to read this book.”

By: John Hilliard

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