There used to be a used bookstore downtown that I’ve frequented regularly since I was a teen. I learned today that it has closed its doors for good, but – for a bibliophile – its done so in the worst way imaginable.
I’ll explain that last part in a moment.
It was, at the time, the largest bookstore – used or otherwise – that I’d ever visited. Four stories and a basement, all filled with books that were so much in abundance that there were three, four, and five foot tall stacks of books in the aisles and in the corners of each floor. There were new books, overstock books, used books, along with well-known titles and limited printings from obscure presses. The basement was filled with albums and old 33, 45, and 78 rpm discs, some that were nearly a century old. The piles of magazines that were in the basement covered the whole of the 20th century.
My first visit there was in the early 1980s. I still recall the book I’d gone to hunt down: A first edition copy of Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope (1968). I was a high schooler then, and I’d caught the movie version, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, on a late night channel and immediately fell in love with the fictionalized story of heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. When I learned that the play was available, I went ga-ga, and had to buy it, but it was long out of print. That’s when an accidental visit to this bookstore changed everything. I got my copy of the play – first edition and all – and I went home thrilled and excited over my success.
It was, to borrow a phrase, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It is no exaggeration to describe this place as a book reader’s version of Eden, and over the years, I walked away with a good number of books from their shelves. Some ended up as gifts for family and friends. It was my go-to place when the mainstream stores failed me (as they often did). I was happy.
Unfortunately, just like Eden, evil lurked in its midst.
The building was shoddy, the roof leaked, and the location – near a sizable body of water – did not help matters. Walking through the place was an adventure of its own, and I am still surprised that I didn’t kill myself traveling up and down the myriad of stairs. The staff was often disinterested in anything except a sale, and I honestly can’t remember the last time anyone smiled or said, “Have a good one, man!” The prices were average, although one copy of a book could be listed at one price, while another copy of the same title could go for a vastly different one. Still, there was so much there that one needed multiple visits to take it all in. My kind of place.
The lack of time and money curtailed my visits. I think the last time I’d stopped by was at least 18 months ago. The lack of parking didn’t help, either.
It was about a month ago that I stopped by to look at things, only to find the doors closed and scaffolding all around. I assumed that the much needed structural repairs were finally happening. They were not. I learned yesterday that the building was shuttered for good, finally condemned by the city leaders who’d been trying to close it for at least a decade. In fact, the article I read simply noted how the building would be demolished, and what might go up in its place.
But that bad part I mentioned at the beginning? Turns out that the building was closed with the books left inside. Mold, they say, had begun to eat away at things, and with the damp air and occasional leaks, it spread. When the city finally closed the doors, nothing was allowed to move. So as the building that was so much a part of my life is torn apart, I have to watch knowing that so many of those same books are there, awaiting the same fate. Torn, crushed, and destroyed.
What a loss!