One of my favorite bookstores in the world, Coliseum Books, shuts its doors for good today, a victim of the obscene rents and the fact that Manhattan is turning into a theme park. One can go ahead and blame chain stores and box stores – but the determination of certain groups of developers to turn New York City into the rich and famous’s playground is, in my mind, the real key to all this.
I’ve been going to Coliseum for years – perhaps even decades – especially when it was up at 57th Street and Broadway. I loved that location – it was enormous, the sale tables were sublime, and they had the most unique assortment of just about everything you could imagine. And plenty you’d never think to look for, but was so intriguing that you’d pick it up and buy it anyway.
They moved down to 42nd Street in 2003, across from the main branch of the New York Public Library and Bryant Park (the home of the two lions, Patience and Fortitude – at the front of the library, not the Park). The Café and its staff were wonderful – there were times when I traveled in for meetings purposely an hour earlier than I needed, just in order to spend time browsing in the store, buying, drinking coffee, reading, or writing. I’ve written the first draft of many a short story in Coliseum Books Café.
I’ve also spent, literally, tens of thousands of dollars there over the years.
When they first moved to the 42nd St. location, in addition to their usual bargain tables, they had tables where the books were $1. I’d pick up anything even remotely interesting, because, how could you go wrong for a buck?
And no, I did not simply pick up one of everything (although I admit I was tempted).
I’d have to burrow through boxes of books to come up with titles from that table – but I can tell you that, over the past year, I picked up an anthology put out by Ben Bella Books on Harry Potter (and, coincidentally, I am now contributing to their new anthology on Stephanie Plum), and February House by Sherrill Tippins, about a house shared by a group of writers in Brooklyn which included Carson McCullers and the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
Their Belles Lettres section was the best I’ve ever found – there I discovered volumes of Madeleine L’Engle’s journals, and was first introduced to the writing of Alice Steinbach, and Sara Nelson’s So Many Books, So Little Time.
I picked up two of my favorite and most often read books from their tables, volumes of Dawn Powell’s letters and her biography (I paid full price for her diaries).
Whenever “the world was too much with me” — I could escape to Coliseum to browse, to find something I needed, assured of a friendly welcome and a non-judgmental staff. The more obscure something I needed was, the happier they were to find it for me. They had a wonderful selection of dictionaries from other languages – and yes, I truly would have bought the Manx volume if I could have spared the $150 at the time!
My heart breaks that the store is gone forever. Unlike the last closing, where they moved from a too-expensive space down to a more congested area, this time they are gone for good. These were booksellers who loved books – a wide variety of books, and they had the best selection I’ve ever found anywhere.
I love them, they are a part of my soul’s fiber, and I mourn the loss.