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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Andreas Brown - Gotham Book Mart

photo from the NY Times
April 24, 1975
credited to Larry Morris

     Frances Steloff founded the wonderful Gotham Book Mart in 1920.  Gotham was her life, but when she was 80 years old maybe it seemed prudent to let go a little.  She sold the store to Andy Brown in 1967.
    Steloff was picky about the conditions of the sale.  She approved of Andy Brown.  He was a knowledgeable book lover himself. He'd been one of her many enthusiastic customers.
     And Steloff didn't let go completely.  She attached certain stipulations to the sale.  1.) She could continue to live in her apartment upstairs for the rest of her life.  2.)  She would continue to manage the occult section of the store herself.  3.)  She was to be free to poke around in the sales floor as she wished.
     Steloff's tastes had the store for almost 50 years.  There were books and broadsides and magazines stored in the basement that had been there almost that whole time.  In spite of her continued involvement, Gotham's character changed a bit.  Andy Brown brought his own enthusiasms and extensive book knowledge to add to hers.  It made the store even better.
     Brown grew up in Texas and went to school in California.  After college he came to New York.  He bought books.  As a young man, he had already assembled a remarkable D.H. Lawrence collection.
     Brown knew younger authors and poets to add to the to the store.  In the same way that Steloff had promoted favorite authors, Brown published and promoted Edward Gorey.

     In 1967, the same year that Andy Brown bought the Gotham Book Mart from Frances Steloff, Christopher Stephens graduated from college and moved to NYC.  He took a job on 54th Street just blocks from Gotham.  Chris spent much of the free time he awarded himself (for the speedy work he did on 54th Street) at Gotham.  He knew the store well.  He got to know Brown and Steloff.  I met them too that year.
     I remember the first time I went to the Gotham.  I was meeting Chris there.  Even though NYC is laid out in a grid and you can't really get lost, I got lost.  When I arrived at the place where wise men shop, Chris was deeply immersed in books and didn't notice how late I was.
     I liked the smell of Gotham.  I liked the shelves and tables cobbled together, obviously added gradually to accommodate more and more books.  And of course I liked the books.  I was intimidated, though, by the intellectual intensity of the place.  Maybe because I was just a kid back then.  
     Over the next few years I got more comfortable with the Gotham.  And then I came to appreciate the inventory.  And then I came to really appreciate it.
     Gotham had a small but notable staff.  Phil Lyman had been in the store for a long time.  He knew the stock. he knew the authors. 
     In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, when I knew it, Gotham was quite a store.   Frances Steloff flitted around like a magical fairy godmother.  Even when you didn't see her, you felt her in the books.  Andy Brown was also a strong presence in the books and in the store. He brought a breadth and vision of these times' writers.

     Gotham Book Mart was a treasure house.

blog about book collecting - post about Gotham

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