The Odyssey Bookstore Turns Fifty

  • Books in Glessie’s, the precursor to the Odyssey
  • Romeo Grenier and Carol Volpe, an MHC alumna and the first Odyssey manager
  • The original Odyssey Bookshop
  • Fire destroys the Odyssey in December of 1985
  • Joan and Romeo Grenier in 1986
  • Romeo Grenier with author, Barbara Smith, in 1987
  • Betty, Romeo, and Joan Grenier in 1989
  • Joan Grenier, Rachel Maddow, MHC President Lynn Pasquerella, and Professor Karen Remmler
  • Eva Paus, Director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland; Joan Grenier; and MHC president, Lynn Pasquerella

The Beginning of the Odyssey

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 was 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 who were 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.

Fire Strikes the Store

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, they 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.

The Odyssey Today

The Odyssey continues to be a vital part of the Mount Holyoke College community. The Odyssey provides course books and art supplies for Mount Holyoke College classes. Many of the Odyssey’s events are planned in conjunction with college faculty, student organizations, departments, and alumnae.

They 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 twenty-four 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.

The Odyssey strives to bring readers and writers together, with a schedule that includes more than 125 literary events a year for adults and children, and attended by thousands of people annually. In addition, in 2001, they 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 collectability. The club now boasts over 265 members.

Opportunities for Alumnae

The Odyssey Bookshop is proud of its history and its continuing role in community life. This fall they are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary and expect to celebrate many more in the years to come. Share your memories about the Odyssey in the comment box below, or by emailing odysseymemories@gmail.com. Alumnae can also host reunion, mini-reunion, and club events at the store. Contact Joan Grenier at joan@odysseybks.com for more information.

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7 responses to “The Odyssey Bookstore Turns Fifty”

  1. Betsy Draine says:

    From Fall 1963 to Spring 1967, I went to the Odyssey when I was blue. I picked up everything by Ian Fleming, and everything by J.R.R. Tolkein, under the influence of Mr. Farmer’s (Farmquist? can’t remember his name but he was a fantastic teacher) Anglo-Saxon classes–enough extracurricular reading to keep me comforted when coursework was too much or I was homesick for 5 younger siblings. For them, I found Venetian-inspired notecards, books of illustrations of Wilde’s naughtier plays, and pretty Christmas ornaments. Then I would repair to the CI for impromptu meetings with friends and a bagel with crisp bacon. That put on the freshman ten, right there.

    • Beth Kubick says:

      Mr. Farnham….Anthony Farnham. He taught Chaucer, too; and was one of the principal readers of my comp exams. He & his wife Anne were generous with their time and their home during my last couple of years at MHC.

  2. Elizabeth Kubick says:

    Yes, the Odyssey is a treasure, and its “new” 50-year incarnation is to be honored….but it is to Glessie’s, and most directly to Romeo Grenier, that I owe my MHC undergraduate degree. Without the countless cups of coffee, diverse collection of magazines, newspapers, art posters, more wonderful books than even an English major could imagine (not to mention others from cultures still foreign to me) and other offerings from the Big World Beyond South Hadley, I would never have made it past first semester freshman year. Glessie’s was unfailingly welcoming–warm and bright and filled with energy–in keeping with the proprietor himself. If I can say that I left Mount Holyoke with a broad and basic education and an unquenchable thirst to learn, then much of the credit must be given to Romeo and Glessie’s.

    Thank you, Romeo; thank you, Glessie’s; and heartful congratulations to the lovely Odyssey with hopes for many, many more years to celebrate and to benefit lucky MHC students, South Hadley townspersons and fortunate visitors just passing through.—–Elizabeth Kubick, MHC ’63

  3. Karin Spencer says:

    Ever since my arrival at MHC as a freshman in 1968, I don’t think a week went by during those four years without my popping into the Odyssey to browse the books or, increasingly, just to say hello to Romeo. I remember him so well, holding court at his desk in the middle of the store, with his afternoon cup of tea. Every visit back as an alumna HAS to include a trip to the Odyssey, even now. Romeo’s spirit remains, and the Odyssey Bookstore is a true gem. Their “Shelf Awareness” emails every week have introduced me to many books I might otherwise have never discovered. Happy 50th Birthday, Odyssey!

  4. Beverly Lang Pierce says:

    In 1970, credit cards were still not widely used; not every store took credit cards. I don’t remember if The Odyssey took them but Romeo had a large file to track student (and perhaps other customer) purchases. I was impressed that Romeo didn’t even know me or whether or not I could or would pay but there was a card with my name on it and every book I bought was hand-entered on the card. Once a month I’d get a bill and once I paid, a line was drawn under the “last” book and the account continued through my four years at MHC. Even as credit cards became more common, The Odyssey continued their billing system.

  5. Marcia Halstead James says:

    As a member of Mount Holyoke’s Class of 1974, I remember Romeo Grenier and the original Odyssey well and with great fondness. At some point Romeo became aware that I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, and he told me to make myself at home in the lower level and read to my heart’s content; he promised that no one would disturb me. He also offered to give me a key to the store so that I could read even when it was closed for business, but this was to be in exchange for my explaining Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves to him. (In his estimation, Woolf didn’t compare to George Gissing.) I remember lying on the floor of the Odyssey, trying to make sense of The Waves, but I never could collect on Romeo’s offer. Happy birthday, Odyssey! You showed me what a bookstore could and should be, and you still appear in my dreams.

  6. Jody Phillips Clark says:

    I remember The Odyssey Bookstore very well. I arrived at MHC as a first year student in the fall of 1978. We were still called “Freshmen” and the college still had a tradition of Hazing. Each dorm had its Senior/Freshman pairs of Hazer/Hazee. I was living in Brigham and one of my hazing “assignments” was to dress in a gown and go across the street to the Odyssey and profess my love to Romeo Grenier by reciting – from memory – Juliet’s balcony speech from “Romeo and Juliet.” It was one of those college moments I will never forget. For the next four years, each time I was in the book store, Romeo would smile at me and ask, “But soft what light from yonder window breaks?”