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.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Closing - Gotham Book Mart

Andy Brown in his office at Gotham Book Mart
photo by Christopher Stephens, September 1979
The Gotham Book Mart did not shut down after its comprehensive sale of inventory. I thought it might. I thought people wouldn’t care much for new books on old shelves.
But Andy Brown knew modern literature. He had a good eye and the replacements he bought made a fascinating array of new books. Besides, the original manuscripts were still there. They had not been part of the sale to New Mexico. They lent prestige. And there were surplus copies of books that Gotham had published salted in amongst the new titles.
The history and the cache of the place where wise men had fished for so long helped maintain a momentum. The Gotham went on for 30 more years.
We were in the city for the rest of that decade. Christopher Stephens stopped into the Gotham frequently. He was pleased to see its continued success.
During the 1980s we moved our book operations north of the George Washington Bridge. We rarely visited.
There were rumors of money troubles, but who in the book business doesn’t routinely buy books beyond cash flow? There were hints of discord over the ownership of the building and other disagreements. We heard about it when Frances Steloff died and when Gotham changed locations and when financial difficulties got bad enough to threaten the store.
When Gotham finally did close its doors, there was plenty of loudly mournful reaction. (There might be a profound insight to be discovered in the fact that the media wailed when the store shut down in 2007, but not when it sold its guts in 1974.)
The people who wrote about the end and the gift to the University of Pennsylvania know a lot more about it than I do. I'm putting some links to their articles in. But Gotham closing is not really my story anyway.
There are ups and downs and various inevitable woes of commerce. For me the big story is that, in spite of everything, the grand Gotham Book Mart was open for business for almost 90 years.
Village Voice article
historical review of Gotham with pictures and info about Penn State
gothamist's take on it
Edward Byrne, poet and editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review remembers

1 comment:

  1. I assembled the Wikipedia article about the Gotham Book Mart ( ), and I enjoyed the place very much in the few times that I was able to visit New York and the shop. I may be over-glamorizing it to claim that it was more than just a book shop, but was in fact a cultural icon. It seemed to claim territory not just in Manhattan but also in our American psychological landscape - a sort of archetype for what a book store should ideally be. It appeared to really foster authors and literary endeavor beyond merely selling the products.

    You're right that a large significance is to be found in its 90-year run. I just can't help feeling a sense of loss for all of us that it ultimately closed its doors. And, the bibliophile in me is mildly outraged that the landlords, one of whom was supposed to be helping Mr. Brown, must've been party to forcing the eviction and sale of inventory -- which the landlord's own lawyer snapped up in a single lot. My bibliophilic nature is also not thrilled with the fact that the inventory was then later donated (entire or only part?!?) to a library instead of into the hands of book lovers, and that latter donation smacks a bit of a face-saving gesture.

    We lost a cultural monument when the Gotham closed its doors. The melodramatic public circumstances of its closing were further heart-rending to me and to many others, and bookended the whole story with a sense of pathos. Our culture's pell-mell hurtle towards immediate gratification, lack of intellectual development, and oblivious throwing-away of classic disciplines are resulting in us losing cultural artifacts before we even realize what we've lost.