Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman
Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.
Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.
Chris loves books.
Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Buying Something Else
Something Else Press printed wonderful books and pamphlets. I just came across the press' last catalogue 1973/74. Jan Herman, sales manager, wrote descriptions of each book. What great descriptions! I wanted to read every single book.
Chris Stephens often ordered books from Something Else Press. One day in 1974 he telephoned to place an order. Jan Herman answered the phone. He sounded down. "Sorry. Can't. We're broke," he told Chris. "We're out of business. Closed down."
Chris was appalled. "But where are the books?" he asked.
"Lawyer has them. Has all our papers. You might be able to get something from the lawyer I suppose. I don't know how he's handling it."
Herman gave Stephens the lawyer's number. Chris called. The lawyer wasn't filling individual orders but he asked if Chris wanted to buy everything. Chris did. The lawyer sent lists of books stored in Vermont and in NYC. They negotiated a price for the entire inventory and papers. The lawyer said Chris would have to send a truck for them but that he'd arrange workers to load the boxes onto the truck.
Chris was very pleased about the books but not about getting them. For one thing, he had a weekly poker game at our apartment, which he hated to cancel. For another Chris didn't relish a lengthy road trip.
I did. I love road trips. I rented a truck and packed the kids into the back of the cab. I brought along my friend from Marvin Cohen's creative writing class, Bruce Hovenstot. It was evening by the time we were finally ready to roll. The poker players had already arrived. I drove out into the night. Bruce quietly criticized my driving the whole way to Vermont.
We were waiting outside a Vermont barn at the appointed hour next morning. The lawyer came with some workers. We didn't get to meet any of those notable authors and poets and artists in person, but we did get to pack thousands of boxes of their work into the U-Haul truck.
I drove back. We unloaded at our loft on 38th Street. Those books took up a lot of room but we had a lot of room. We had the whole top floor, 17th, and around that time we took the 16th too. Chris picked up more Something Else Press books from the NYC distributor. For months we looked through those boxes.
Business files were there too. Chris could see that production costs on some titles exceeded wholesale price. No wonder they were broke.
Chris Stephens himself, and Frank Scioscia too, have often flipped conventional business wisdom. The riverrun proprietors routinely bought high and sold low. But the difference is that those lines rarely crossed.
Something Else Press was publishing remarkable material. It pumped creative energy into our society. Their bankrupcy leaves us all slightly bankrupt. It was a very fine press - a very fine project.