Notes from New York: Gotham, Coliseum, The Moth and CBGB’s

It’s sad when any bookstore closes. But all bookstores are not the same, and I had vastly different reactions when I heard that two independent New York City bookstores, the Gotham Book Mart and Coliseum Books, are both closing down.

Gotham Book Mart is (I still hope for the best and I can’t say “was”) a masterpiece of a bookstore. Rare first editions gleam like Tiffany diamonds in its front window, photos of Jazz Age literati line its walls, the staff is warm and friendly, and the book selection is everything you’d hope it would be. Gotham Book Mart has run its own publishing imprint, and they published Patti Smith back before she became a rock and roll star. May this great store reopen soon, and may wise men and women fish here forever …

Coliseum Books is another NYC institution with its own enthusiastic supporters, but I’ve got nothing but gripes with this bookstore. Here’s the biggest one: they shrink-wrapped their books. I have no idea why they did this — perhaps they were losing a certain amount of inventory to grubby-fingered candy-bar eaters? But other bookstores manage to survive without wrapping their books in plastic, and this inexplicable practice made it no fun at all to visit Coliseum, despite their excellent selection.

My second Coliseum gripe has to do with an eminence of downtown alternative poetry, Ron Kolm, the long-time manager of the store (I don’t know if he worked there recently or not). Kolm was a leader of the poetry group “The Unbearables”, and back when I was a fledgling NY poet desparate for attention (before LitKicks took off and my need for attention became saturated) I used to chat with Ron at poetry readings and I thought we were tight until one day I asked him if I could hang up a poster for a gathering of web-based poets on the store’s bulletin board. Apparently Kolm had a major attitude problem regarding the concept of poetry on the web, and he handed me back my poster with an expression on his face that said “take your trash elsewhere, internet boy”.

Gotham Book Mart, on the other hand, always let me hang posters on their bulletin boards, and were always very nice about it.

One thing dies, another is born. Coliseum Books’ final resting place is right across the street from the New York Public Library, where an enthusiastic Director of Public Programs named Paul Holdengraber is knocking himself out to promote a great ongoing series of live events, Live From The NYPL. You gotta love this guy’s energy level. I’ve been to several events there already, including a very fun evening with The Moth last Friday night. The Moth is a “storytelling” group — every reader gets ten minutes, the stories are supposedly true, and a very talented violin player interrupts you with a fiddle solo if you dare to overstep your time.

Friday night’s Moth event featured the hilarious Jonathan Ames as well as a special appearance by journalist Carl Bernstein, who told a quick anecdote about a race horse named Carl Bernstein before launching into an even better anecdote about his days as a newspaper copy boy. Bernstein’s old partner Bob Woodward is still raking muck in Washington D.C. these days, but I think it’s cool that Carl would rather spend his Friday night chilling with a bunch of storytellers in a library.

One thing is born, another dies. I hate the idea of losing the Gotham Book Mart (and I still can’t believe it won’t be rescued — somebody, please) … but the saddest loss of all for New York City is CBGB’s, the wonderful, wonderful punk club at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery in the East Village that is closing this month. I’m not going to bother spouting cliches about the birthplace of punk rock, but I would like to point out that one of the most beautiful sights in New York City is the silver awning of this humble club at the butt end of Bleecker Street.

Future generations will be denied this vision, but I’m sure CBGB’s will be remembered and memorialized, and the timing couldn’t be better for a new art book called CBGB: Decades of Graffiti by Christopher D. Salyers with an introduction by Richard Hell. Check out some of these great photos (of course, if you were browsing this book at Coliseum Books you wouldn’t be able to, because it would be shrink-wrapped in plastic).

* * * * *

One final New York City note: LET’S GO MOTHERFUCKING METS!!! I swear Jose Reyes is the second coming of Len Dykstra, and that’s a good thing. What a series, what a series … I’ll be at game two of the National League Championship Series this Thursday night with my kids. Look for us on TV when the camera scans the cheap seats — we’ll be the ones wearing black, orange and blue.

6 Responses

  1. shameI’m sorry to hear the

    I’m sorry to hear the Gotham Book Mart’s closing. It was thanks to the Mart that five of the transition poet Abraham Lincoln Gillespie’s texts – four unpublished & one published as a Mart flier – survived from ’29/’32 to ’80 to be published in “The Syntactic Revolution” (ed. Richard Milazzo (Italy: OOLP) 1980). In other words the Gotham Book Mart gifted us directly one-fifth c. of the Gillespie material remaining to us & by no means the least suggestive fifth.

  2. Lenny Kaye Wearing a
    Lenny Kaye Wearing a Curtain

    My friend Craig Spirko went to CBGB’s to see Lenny Kaye, who came out wearing what looked like a curtain. I never made it there, although I was once across the street. I should have gone when I had the chance.

    Speaking of bookstores, I’ve noticed that some of them are a lot more open-minded than others about putting up posters and ads. Some of them, it depends on the mood of whoever is working that day.

  3. Book storesC’mon, Levi, you
    Book stores

    C’mon, Levi, you lose two and you win one. There’s a spanking-brand- new Borders Book Store (Grand Opening ceremonies taking place this week) abutting Madison Square Garden, on the corner of 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. And they promise to tie in their book promotions to events at the Garden! I can guarantee no shrink-wrapped books.

    Go Mets! It couldn’t possibly get any better than last Satuday, when the Mets clinched and the Yankees were humiliated on the same day. Enjoy the game. Are you in the loop for World Series tix?

  4. Actually, I just spent some
    Actually, I just spent some money at this new Borders bookstore last week. Yes, I like the new Borders a lot. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the other saddest bookstore losses in New York City was the Borders in the World Trade Center — a flagship store with three floors and a gigantic inventory.

    I wish I were in the loop for World Series tix, but I’m not … I’m glad to be going to the NLCS though. I’ve been to two NLCS games in my life (86 and 88) — Sid Fernandez pitched them both, and we lost them both. I think it’s my turn for good luck.

  5. Strand BooksLevi, a bookstore
    Strand Books

    Levi, a bookstore that I frequent when I can make it to NYC is Strand Books. If memory serves it’s on the corner of 12th and Broadway. It’s a used bookstore, but with a huge selection. I hope it’s still there, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. They have art books at very good prices.

  6. Doc, the Strand is still
    Doc, the Strand is still there and in fine shape — 12th and Broadway as you said. I buy a lot of my hard-to-find used books there. Exhaustingly large store — it’s known to knock people out the first time they go in, but once you figure out the shelving you can find great things there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!