Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Closing of a Good Bookstore

Our Town downtown
October 9, 2006

I remember as a kid watching a cowboy movie at the small-town theater and seeing a shot glass slid down the bar of some dance hall/saloon to a thirsty wrangler who hadn’t shaved and who had one strong boot up on the railing. Even at 10 years old I felt I’d missed something by not being around to live in such a setting where, it appeared to me, basic needs were met.

I thought about that when the smoking ban went into affect here and you couldn’t smoke in saloons anymore. I thought how a 10-year old kid is going to see old movies some day where people smoked and it’s going to look real authentic to him. Just like the cowboy bar looked more leathery and manly than the world I lived in outside the theater, a late 20th century bar with people drinking Rolling Rocks and smoking Marlboro Lights will look less plastic and way sexier to the kid than the computer-wanking life his parents have made for him.

Sometimes you know, in your own time, that something is the real thing and you’re grateful for it and glad it’s around. Molly’s on 22nd and Third is such a place. So is The Strand bookstore. You’ve all got stores and bars that are that way for you. When you walk into them it’s like pushing through the swinging doors of that wild-west saloon. You’re transported into a better-lit place with way better textures than the Apple store.

Bookstores can be that way. Independents especially. No matter the season or your age, you un-wrap the college muffler from around your neck as you cross the store’s threshold and you’re a sophomore all over again, the world of ideas right in front of you, arranged on shelves and in shining stacks. No parents over your shoulder, no summer reading list killing your desire. You can order any book you’re thirsty for and they’ll slide it down your way.

One of the good ones just announced it was closing. Coliseum Books across from Bryant Park and the big library on 42nd Street. It has a great feel to it. The deep space going back to the next block. No escalators. A coffee shop that doesn’t feel like Dunkin’ Donuts. Sturdy blown-up book-jacket posters leaning randomly against tables and counters. I like that.

I had only recently become a regular in there. Our offices are nearby. I was coming to think of it as one of my places. I’d walk out of the offices some mornings or in mid-afternoon, a pencil between my teeth like a pirate to look like I was working, and head the few blocks to the store.

I was in there the other day after it was announced that they’d likely be gone by Christmas. Oh what a sad time that is not to have a good bookstore. The good fall titles are still up front. The big new art books are on display. That’s when a gift-wrap table is set up. From the speakers you hear Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms and if you’re lucky the Ronettes will be singing Come on It’s Lovely Weather for a Sleigh Ride Together with Yo-o-u-u…

Those are timeless moments. They only happen in a few places. There’s about to be one less of those now. And all the websites in the world can’t give you the satisfactions that one of those places can.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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