Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another bookstore closing-In Memoriam

We attended all three days of BookExpoAmerica at Javits Center and will report the bad and good news shortly.
But first...... the New York Times reports in its editions of Saturday May 30 that the Morningside Bookshop at Broadway and 114th St. cannot pay its rent to Columbia University and is closing this weekend. The owner of Book Culture(formerly Labyrinth Books), the City's best academic bookshop and a nearby competitor has a proposal to the University to take over the lease, but for now it seems that this is but another death in the Long Sad Departure of independent bookselling in New York.
Before Peter Soter took over this shop, it existed in several prior iterations, including as Papyrus Books, where it was also a general paperback and hardcover store, and before that(going back to the 1960's) as Taylor's House of Paperbacks, where it served Columbia students before Barnes and Noble as the only full blown on campus source for trade books.
Columbia had another general bookstore (which thrived on selling texts )called at various times Salters, Barnard Bookforum, and Posman's Books on Broadway between 115th and 116th st, but Posman Books closed the shop as well as its Village store in the 1990's, leaving open only its store in Grand Central Station.Taylor's House of Paperbacks and its progeny were the last of the old-fashioned straight up trade stores in the neighborhood.

Bookculture is a truly wonderful shop just two blocks away, and the presence of Bank St Books and the Columbia university bookstore makes it hard to argue that the area is a cultural wasteland. Still, the survival of independent bookselling has become an urgent matter, and when Book Culture opened, it was (at least then) supported by Columbia which wanted to draw academics to Morningside Heights with a store to rival Seminary Coop in Chicago, considered by many the nation's best academic bookstore on the campus of the University of Chicago.

I remember buying books and cashing my checks with Lou Taylor at the House of Paperbacks shop in the 1960's, when he was already an older man who consciously bore the image of an elder labor organizer and one most suspicious of authority, as we students went out to protest the Vietnam War and various doings on campus. We lived in the neighborhood then and after graduation and would often spot Lou out at midnight on one of his Upper West Side rambles around West 106 St or Broadway; he was a very thin man, who did not wear expensive clothes, had an unshaven appearance and a knowing laugh and was always supportive of the students. I think he drew some kind of wild electric energy from the young, but he was a comrade who could introduce you to good reading as well as just sell books.
Two blocks away, on the side of one of the buildings on Broadway loomed that huge sign"The Wages of Sin is Death but the Gift of God is Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ" that was the subject of much student parody as it existed in counterpoint to Dante (Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here)
It's a long and tortuous history, and we could go on about the wonderful people who ran Papyrus as well, but the point is - Let's Save Independent Bookselling, even if it takes a national or state bill and tax-favored status to support it. Without it, and without newspapers, we are a much poorer nation, and one lacking in civics and liberal arts.

Keep the Renaissance alive!The struggle continues!


  1. Salter's...Taylor's...Papyrus...Paperback Forum...Parnassus...Ta-Kome...V&T...West End...Brass Rail...Chock Full Of Nuts...Tom's...Duke's...Mama Joy's...Mill Luncheonette...Moon Palace...the owl in Minerva's folds...Lou Taylor pushing his supermarket basket of books down Broadway, that large, rebellious grin...better than madeleines and tea any day... - Jack Fargnoli