Sunday, January 16, 2011
Farewell to a Favorite Place
On my first visit to New York City in 1996, I could hardly believe what I saw on entering the bookstore at the corner of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, right across the street from Lincoln Center. Open from 9 am to midnight, 7 days a week! That beat any library hours, and the supplies - books from the basement to the 3rd floor - appeared compatible as well.
Many people seemed to be using the store in the sense of a reference library. Some were sitting on the carpet right between the shelves, deeply absorbed in the books they had taken. A whole line of readers were sitting on the floor, comfortably leaning against the wall while taking notes. It was even hard to find a place.
If you had tried the same thing in Germany at the time, a shop assistant would have been after you before you got around to turning a page, with instructions that the books were for purchase only, and if you intended to do anything with them beyond that, would you move on to the cash register, please.
The cafe on the fourth floor was the best. Overlooking Broadway from above, you could sit there for hours over a bite to eat or something to drink and a stack of books. The portraits of great writers on the back wall of the cafe conjured up their spirits; in short, it was a reader’s heaven.
In 1997, I began to study piano with Seymour Bernstein. On numerous trips to New York City, from Germany at first, then from New Hampshire, the bookstore became a sort of “soul home” in the city, a place that anchored me, while I stayed overnight in different places; or before I headed out for another long trip on the plane or on the bus. Even after I moved to New Jersey, I kept up the habit of spending time over a cup of tea and a stack of books at the cafe after my piano lesson, and at other times as well.
In December 2010, a simple notice on plain white paper informed customers that the book store would be closing at the end of the year. For a couple of days, I felt homeless.
The other day, I found the following message posted on the door:
“This location of Barnes&Noble has closed. Yes, it was just a store. But for us, the people who filled this store, it has been our honor and pleasure to serve this community for the past fifteen years. Some of you we’ve known all that time, others only briefly. But we’ve valued our relationships with all of you.
Thank you for allowing us into your lives, and into your community.
We will miss you.”
It’s a small comfort that I’m not the only one who has to find a new routine. Others have lost their workplace - compared to that, my loss is minor. I didn’t know that I had been a regular visitor ( and an occasional customer) from the beginning to the end.
There is a special energy in places where people come together randomly to do the same thing, even if they do it by themselves. It’s a part of city culture, and it’s a part of its magic - of the parks in the summer, and the "public spaces" in the winter. The bookstore was one of them. New York City has lost one of its magical places.