God Won 't Save Manhattan's Strand Bookshop, But You Can Help

           There is magic in bookstores of all types, but the magic is especially profound in a used bookstore. A discerning reader will find not only invitations to new worlds and intoxicating ideas, but the books themselves have a history. I’ve often marveled at the marginalia left by another.

            But among the world’s used bookstores, at least one holds a special place in the hearts of serious readers: I am referring The Strand bookshop on Broadway and 12th Street in lower Manhattan. There are miles of books spread over the mulitstory shop – eighteen miles of books, if the advertisements are to be believed. The shop houses some 2.5 million rare, used and new books.

            I’ve spent many an afternoon in that shop. The idea that I may never spend another is intolerable. No trip to Manhattan is complete without a few hours at The Strand.

            It turns out The Strand has made a plea for help. It’s foundering as we move through the eighth month of this pandemic, with no apparent end in sight. Revenues are down 70 percent over one year ago. Although the shop took federal Payroll Protection Plan money, it was still forced to lay off employees, carrying with it the risk that the federal monies will have to be repaid.

          In a recent tweet the shop sent out a distress signal:

          “We need your help. This is the post we hoped to never write, [ignore the split infinitive] but today marks a huge turning point in The Strand’s history. Our revenue has dropped nearly 70% compared to last year, and the loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat the past months are depleted.”

            The store is asking for book lovers to buy gift cards and spend money on books. It encourages others to use the hashtag #savethestrand.

            “[F]or the first time in The Strand’s 93 year history, we need to mobilize the community to buy from us so we can keep our doors open until there is a vaccine,” said Bass Wyden, the third-generation owner of the shop.

            I am joining her in asking for your help.

            Books are the friends all of us need. A new book is an invitation to a new world, or a new way of seeing old, seemingly familiar places.

            When I was a child, we had few books around the house. Money was tight, too tight for what my mother regarded as luxuries. I'd study the Scholastic Book catalogs when they arrived at school, imagining all I could buy and read, if there were money.  

            But even my mother knew books were food for the soul. She never graduated high school, but had a shelf of books in the house. She’d permit me to buy one from time to time at the grocery store. And I knew my way to the libraries in our various neighborhoods. I still cherish the copy of Toby Tyler with which she once surprised me.

            In my freshman year in high school, I discovered a used bookshop on Harper Avenue in Detroit. I see now in hindsight that there wasn’t much on the shelves. The owner displayed the books not so that a book’s spine faced shoppers, rather the books were placed with their front covers showing. I bought a copy of Thoreau’s Walden there, and was transfixed by his account of growing peas. And I first spied Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment there, surprised to learn the book was more about God than the gore I had expected to find.

            I could not get enough of that shop. Indeed, I’d often go there with money I had been paid, in cash, for sweeping the floor of a jacket manufacturing shop, or from the small appliance repair shop down the street at which I worked for a time.

            That shop was a slice of heaven.

            I’m old now. Not surprisingly, I own a used bookshop of my own, even as my law office and home are rapidly becoming a hoarder’s paradise of the written word. My poor wife insists that we leave some space for something other than the joyous riot of words found in books. (I’m on the cusp of building more shelves in the second story of a barn at our home, a barn already containing dozens of boxes of papers and effects from our bookstore.)

            So here is the link for The Strand. I encourage you to shop there, rather than at Amazon. Amazon may be able to outperform The Strand on price, and even delivery, but you shop at The Strand for love, not for convenience. Keep the store alive. www.strandbooks.com.

            And, if you’ve a mind to do so, stop by at Whitlock Farm Booksellers, my shop, in Bethany, CT. (20 Sperry Road) We don’t have the cache of lower Broadway or Manhattan. We’re located in decrepit old sheep and turkey barns. Our shop has been at it at that location for almost 70 years. Here’s the link: www.whitlocksbookbarn.com.

           When my wife and I bought Whitlocks in 2005, the first thing we did was install signs over the doors to both barns: “Set Yourself Free,” the signs say.

          That’s what a used bookshop is: a safe haven in troubled times. Rest your weary mind and browse. You’ll find much of the joy life has to offer in the pages of old books. I guarantee it.


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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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