July 10, 2008

Eulogy for a Book Shop

Being from the hinterlands means never having to say you're sorry for being the last to know. Hence I just found out, a year out, that Gotham Books of "Wise-Men-Fish-Here" fame went the way of all flesh.

I'd found out the old-fashioned way: with shoe leather. I'd hoofed up & down 47th street looking for it in vain. Turns out it had moved to 46th street in an effort to stiff-arm the Reaper.

So now it can be told: the Village Voice from last year tells the sad tale:
Could it have been just a Sherlockian "death" over the Reichenbach Falls? Was it a Tom Sawyer funeral after all? Did the renowned Gotham Book Mart never actually die? "Something's cooking," said one former employee, reached by phone last week, while another central source spoke optimistically of "important things happening"—implying the possibility of a settlement that would resurrect the store and erase its ugly end.

The obituary was ignominious. In the back of the Business section of May 13's Times, under an announcement for a clearance sale of bras and panties, appeared the notice for a "Marshal's Auction," with tiny print and the wrong name:
>>Tremendous Inventory Books, Furniture, & Memorabilia >> Of The World Famous Literary Landmark Gotham Book Store
If the notice seemed a little crass—with "furniture" jammed in like a barker's bait..
Elsewhere on the web, another obit:

Goodbye, Gotham Book Mart
Another brief post, marking what is truly the end of an epoch.

The Gotham Book Mart has been evicted, its merchandise snapped up by its landlord at auction for $400,000, its new premises to be rented to someone who can pay more.

Why is this a big deal?

The Gotham Book Mart ([Photo via Rollerboogie]), in its former home and incarnation, was widely considered one of New York's greatest bookstores. Founded in 1920, it was one of the finest repositories of original and rare literature in the city, and, during the long tenure of former proprietor Frances Steloff, a major haunt for many notable American and foreign writers of the 20th century...

I always loved going in there because of the pleasant, attentive, knowledgeable staff members, a rarity at bookstores these days, and because I'd often find obscure poetry books--sometimes published 20 or 40 years before--still sitting behind other books (because they practiced double-packing the books!) on the shelves, waiting to be extracted, explored and purchased rather than returned to moulder a publisher's or distributor's warehouse.

Many writers I know, and especially those of previous generations, have a Gotham Book Mart visit story or three. It was one of the City's longtime literary beacons, outlasting many of this larger competitors, like Scribner's, Doubleday, and Brentano, and outliving peers like Eeyore and Shakespeare and Company, only to fall prey the rent monster...

At any rate, sic transit gloriae urbis....

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