Eight Miles Worth Saving: George Will's Lasting Contribution

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Eight Miles Worth Saving: George Will's Lasting Contribution

Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jul 28, 2005 10:29 am

February 04, 2005
Nancy Bass, Bookseller

The Strand Bookstore, a New York institution on Broadway and 12th Street, is famously home to 18 miles' worth of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books. The store recently expanded, adding a second floor devoted to art and a third floor housing rare books, with more additions and renovations currently underway.

This evening, February 4th, the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be appearing at Strand to celebrate their Gates Project for Central Park.

The basics:
Occupation, where are you from, where are you now?

I'm co-owner of Strand, with my dad, Fred Bass. It was founded by my grandfather, Benjamin Bass, in 1927. I grew up in Westchester County, in Pelham Manor, and I now live a block away from the store. I've been living in the city for 16 or 17 years, always in this neighborhood, walking distance from the store.

A few for you:
What was it like growing up with the bookstore?

One of my earliest memories is going to the kids' books section with my hands out and saying I could have any book I wanted! I wanted to help out all the time. I remember as a toddler asking the employees if I could sharpen their pencils. And then I was always recruited to work here, answering phones in the summers, I cashiered a lot, worked in the review section, on the main floor.

How do you calculate the mileage?

We measure the books across. It's an educated estimates. We'll measure some and multiply it. We really didn't change the sign for a long time because it was our symbol. It was originally coined by the journalist George Will in 1970. The beginning of his article says, "The eight miles worth saving in the city are at the corner of Broadway and 12th street. They are the grand shelves of Strand Bookstore." That's where our tagline comes from. When we acquired the other floor, we decided to change it to 16 miles, and then realized it was more accurate at 18. It takes some effort to change the stationary and bookmarks and T-shirts, I don't know if we'll change it again soon.

People probably don't realize that so many bookshelves in offices, storefronts, and movie sets were designed by Strand. What were some of the most challenging requests?

It's challenging when they give me a period. A Beautiful Mind was challenging, because that was math textbooks from the 50s. Cider House Rules, we did that -- medical books in Michael Caine's office from the early 1900s. The easy ones are medical offices and law offices. Sometimes people ask for a Greenwich Village hipster thing. It's fun to do, it's creative. We did the backdrop for "Oz." That was kind of fun to do a prison library.

What are some of your rarest books?

Our rarest book is a Shakespeare, worth $125,000. It's a second printing, or second folio. It's in our gold safe. It's from 1632, it's leather bound and has beautiful pages. Our oldest book is from the 15th century, it's written in calligraphy and it's beautiful. We have a Gone with the Wind first edition, for $10,000. We have a first edition Lewis Carroll.


How long do rare books stay at Strand before being snatched up by collectors?

Sometimes they go right away. We don't really want the Shakespeare to leave. I don't really want the Gone with the Wind to go either. We price things fair with our rare books, and all of our books are discounted in the store. We want people to leave feeling they've gotten a bargain or a fair deal. We have customers who come to the store every single day. Treasure hunters. We get new things every day, and they want to be there to find that gem.

Are you familiar with the Strand Sucks blog?

No! I'll look for it. There's 210 people here. You're just not going to keep everyone happy. But I can't think of a better place to work selling books. I only hire people who love literature.

I understand Christo is on his way to Strand?

Tonight, there is a signing by Christo. It's the first bookstore they're doing, of only three. They chose the Strand. They'll be in our new art floor, which has been open only a month and a half. Everybody's very excited about it. It's from six to eight, and customers are asking if they should come here at two o'clock. They're like rock stars.

What other events have you held, or are planned?

I want to plan more events, to get more active with authors we like. Brian Lamb was here from C-Span to shoot a four-hour program, in August, during the weekend of the Republican Convention. He brought a lot or political authors, Democrats and Republicans, to argue over issues. We had Art Spiegelman here. That was his first time out signing for his latest book. I've had private parties and book signings for Walter Isaacson, Simon Winchester, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, who I love, and David Sedaris. A lot of authors came by and signed books when we didn't have the space, and we just put them on our bestseller table, and sold Strand signed copies discounted.

The questionnaire:
What's the best bargain to be found in the city?

Aside from all the books in the store? Manicures and pedicures are a pretty good buy. It's a luxury, a way to be pampered and feel polished, a way to get away from things. To feel like you're almost transported away from the city's stresses.

If you could pass one law affecting the city, what would it be?

I think people should spend more time reading. I would make everyone shut off their TV set or Internet for one hour and pick up a book. I'd start with one hour, but I'd gradually increase it, like taxes.

What bygone place or thing do you wish were still around?

I think the city keeps improving, keeps getting better and better. I just wish the apartments were cheaper.

Besides Strand, what location would you declare a landmark?

I like to run--I'm not really going to answer your question, but I love when I'm running and the city passing by feels like a quilt. There's this patch of neighborhood, that patch, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Financial District… I love running up Fifth Avenue, Central Park. So I'd say the neighborhoods should be landmarked. The diversity.

What's your favorite or least favorite thing about this neighborhood?

My favorite thing about this neighborhood is that it has everything. Restaurants in Union Square, great gyms, spas. The subway's right here. I don't have any complaints. I think the people are great here, there's a real neighborhood feeling.

If the world were ending tomorrow, what would you do with your final 24 hours in NYC?

I'd be here at the bookstore. I love it here, I really do. I can't think of anything more wonderful than to work with something that you love and with a family member. You feel like you're building something and working as a team.
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Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:45 pm

I've been buying at Strand for close to a half-century. I never have had much use for Fred Bass, an astute businessman but a fairly nasty employer although he's mellowed since the union came in over his vehement and illegal objections.

His father, Ben, was what we call "a real bookman," one of the Fourth Avenue fellows who deeply loved books in a way Fred never has. That Fourth Avenue - Book Row - is a treasured memory for me and many others of my generation.

The Strand recently underwent a major renovation and Fred gave his daughter a free hand with one controlling no-no: no cafe, no food, no drinks.

I try to visit the Strand about once a month and I also buy from them online.
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Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:55 pm

Ralph wrote:I've been buying at Strand for close to a half-century. I never have had much use for Fred Bass, an astute businessman but a fairly nasty employer although he's mellowed since the union came in over his vehement and illegal objections.

His father, Ben, was what we call "a real bookman," one of the Fourth Avenue fellows who deeply loved books in a way Fred never has. That Fourth Avenue - Book Row - is a treasured memory for me and many others of my generation.

The Strand recently underwent a major renovation and Fred gave his daughter a free hand with one controlling no-no: no cafe, no food, no drinks.

I try to visit the Strand about once a month and I also buy from them online.
I've been buying from them since about 1976, by mail. Oddly enough I could find more of what I specifically looking for in the DC area - probably the transients - than I could from Strand. I visited the store once - wouldn't mind camping there for a week, but when I was in NYC I'd much rather spend my time in the Cloisters than in a bookstore. Now, Cleveland, that's a different story - but then they don't have the Cloisters.

Anybody here ever go to Marks & Sons, the site of Helen Hanff's long- term correspondent?
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Haydnseek
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Post by Haydnseek » Thu Jul 28, 2005 3:04 pm

Ralph wrote:That Fourth Avenue - Book Row - is a treasured memory for me and many others of my generation.
Can I take it that Book Row isn't there anymore? Is there a street or area today in NYC noted for its used book shops? Visiting them is one of my favorite pastimes, especially if I can wander from one to the next.
"The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be." - Raymond Chandler

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Post by Ralph » Thu Jul 28, 2005 3:11 pm

Haydnseek wrote:
Ralph wrote:That Fourth Avenue - Book Row - is a treasured memory for me and many others of my generation.
Can I take it that Book Row isn't there anymore? Is there a street or area today in NYC noted for its used book shops? Visiting them is one of my favorite pastimes, especially if I can wander from one to the next.
*****

Book Row is gone. I used to spend whole days browsing from one to another.

There aren't many good second-hand book stores in the city and even in the burbs quite a few have gone out of business in the last decade.

There are a few second-hand book stores worth checking out including a small, very narrow one opposite Zabar's on Broadway. Skyline Books on West 18 St. between 5th and 6th is also worth a visit.

Argosy near Bloomingdale's is the carriage trade equivalent of a good used book store.
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

Haydnseek
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Post by Haydnseek » Thu Jul 28, 2005 5:41 pm

Ralph wrote:Book Row is gone. I used to spend whole days browsing from one to another.

There aren't many good second-hand book stores in the city and even in the burbs quite a few have gone out of business in the last decade.

There are a few second-hand book stores worth checking out including a small, very narrow one opposite Zabar's on Broadway. Skyline Books on West 18 St. between 5th and 6th is also worth a visit.

Argosy near Bloomingdale's is the carriage trade equivalent of a good used book store.
Thanks, I hope to visit them one day.
"The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be." - Raymond Chandler

Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:21 pm

Haydnseek wrote:
Ralph wrote:Book Row is gone. I used to spend whole days browsing from one to another.

There aren't many good second-hand book stores in the city and even in the burbs quite a few have gone out of business in the last decade.

There are a few second-hand book stores worth checking out including a small, very narrow one opposite Zabar's on Broadway. Skyline Books on West 18 St. between 5th and 6th is also worth a visit.

Argosy near Bloomingdale's is the carriage trade equivalent of a good used book store.
Thanks, I hope to visit them one day.
*****

Let me know in advance of your coming here and I'll put together a custom book shopping tour of Manhattan.

There are some very good second-hand bookstores north of the city (probably out on the Island too but I never go there).
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

Haydnseek
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Post by Haydnseek » Thu Jul 28, 2005 8:25 pm

Ralph wrote:
Haydnseek wrote:
Ralph wrote:Book Row is gone. I used to spend whole days browsing from one to another.

There aren't many good second-hand book stores in the city and even in the burbs quite a few have gone out of business in the last decade.

There are a few second-hand book stores worth checking out including a small, very narrow one opposite Zabar's on Broadway. Skyline Books on West 18 St. between 5th and 6th is also worth a visit.

Argosy near Bloomingdale's is the carriage trade equivalent of a good used book store.
Thanks, I hope to visit them one day.
*****

Let me know in advance of your coming here and I'll put together a custom book shopping tour of Manhattan.

There are some very good second-hand bookstores north of the city (probably out on the Island too but I never go there).
Thanks again!
"The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be." - Raymond Chandler

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