Cellar Stories Bookstore is Closing After More Than Forty Years

The beloved vintage and rare bookstore in downtown Providence will close its doors on January 31.
A Stack Of Leather Bound Books With Gold Decoration

Via Getty Images

After forty years in business, Cellar Stories Bookstore is entering its final chapter. The owners of the beloved vintage and rare bookstore in downtown Providence confirmed on social media this week that they will not be renewing their lease and closing shop permanently on January 31, 2023.

Providence College alum Michael Chandley originally opened the business with a friend in 1982. The two first operated out of the cellar unit of 184 Mathewson Street — performing odd jobs for the building owner to help make rent — with an inventory consisting of items from their own personal collections. Chandley eventually took on full ownership, growing and expanding the business enough that he could move on up to a first-floor space on 190 Mathewson before eventually settling in the store’s current location, 111 Mathewson, in 2007. Today, the store specializes in vintage and rare books on local history, art, architecture, poetry, mathematics and more, boasting a stock of more than 70,000 volumes.

In a moving tribute posted to Cellar Stories Facebook page, current owner Victoria Forsberg-Lary writes, “Mike found help from a cohort of willing apprentices over the years, many of whom went on to pursue careers in the trade as booksellers, librarians and writers. I’ve heard some of them refer to the store as ‘Mike Chandley’s Home for Wayward Girls,’ as an overwhelming number of us started our employment as troubled young women, and upon leaving found ourselves educated, empowered, and slightly ‘reformed.’”

In the post, Forsberg-Lary also shares a line from a letter written to Chandley by a former employee: “I always felt that you were concerned about my well-being and prepared to intercede on my behalf but also trusted my ability to manage on my own…a steadily caring, un-hovering presence.”

Forsberg-Lary joined the Cellar Stories team in 2014 and says she knew very quickly that she had stumbled upon something special. She and Chandley grew to be best friends over the four years they worked together, learning and laughing a ton along the way. When Chandley died in 2018, she describes the experience as not only losing a piece of her heart, but also as Providence losing an important part of its community.

“He was really something special. He could be stern and grumpy, but he was sweet and soft and kind, and he always had a little twinkle in his eye. He would give anyone a free book or a dollar for the bus if they needed it, but without hesitancy would tell you exactly what you could do with yourself if you pissed him off,” she writes. “I miss him a lot.”

Forsberg-Lary met Justine, a then former Cellar Stories employee, at his funeral, and the two went on to work together at the store and become as close as sisters throughout the past few years. They plan to start their own book business after Cellar Stories closes its doors.

“Although it is very sad to say goodbye to Cellar Stories, I know Mike would be happy to see us keeping his legacy alive and proud to see all that we’ve accomplished. I don’t think anyone thought the store would make it forty years, or that it would become such an important place to so many people,” Forsberg-Lary continues in the post. “It will always be a special place to me, and I know I will never take for granted everything I’ve learned here.”

Since the announcement, Cellar Stories has received an outpouring of love and support from Rhode Islanders both in person and online. Users on Facebook, Instagram and even Reddit are sharing fond memories of interactions with Chandley and unique treasures found amongst the stacks, as well as expressing their gratitude for the store’s existence along with heartbreak for its ending.

If you would like to say your farewells before Cellar Stories closes the book on its time at Mathewson, you can still do so by visiting the store throughout December and January. It will be open Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and all remaining inventory will be discounted by 50 percent until closing day on January 31. 111 Mathewson St.,
Providence, 401-521-2665, cellarstories.com