Gary Goodman had no intention of buying a bookstore. He was 31 years old and lived in St. Paul with his wife Mary Pat and two children, earning a minimal living, working the night shift, caring for mentally ill and violent teenagers who planned to kill him by hitting him on the head with a hemmed sock with metal belt buckles.
So when Goodman walked into the “dark hole” of a bookstore on Arkadnaya Street in 1982, he was intrigued by the idea of “buying an operating concern filled with valuable books. … “
Oh, if only he knew, he admits in his new memoir The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade.
After arguing with the store owner, Goodman discovered that he had “four thousand bad books in a bad place and not a cent in my name.”
Although he knew nothing about book sales, Goodman took the path that led him to become part of a group of Minnesota scribes who influenced the local used book business in his final days of fame, including Jim Cummings, Tom Loom, Paul … “General” Kisselburg, Steve Anderson, Larry Dingman and Melvin McCosh. Together and separately, they founded the businesses that made Stllwater a great book city in the 1990s. (Except for McCosh, who stubbornly remained in his hard-to-reach, falling mansion on Lake Minnetonka, where dark rooms were packed with books.)
Goodman will present his funny / sad / poignant memoir at 6:30 pm on Thursday, December 9th at Stillwater Public Library, 224 Third St. N., Stillwater, in conversation with Eric Anderson representing his publisher, University of Minnesota Press. The program is sponsored by UMP in partnership with the Stillwater Public Library and a bookseller in Stillwater. Register in person at z.umn.edu/goodman1209.
Goodman admits that the title of his book needs clarification.
“People are still selling books,” he writes. “But I am one of the last kind bookseller. Of those that for 600 years have been digging in basements, bookshelves and bookstores in search of sometimes rare books or, more often, second-hand books. They were hunter-gatherers of the book business, travelers, and collectors who spent their entire lives saving books that might otherwise have been lost. … Now they are almost extinct, they were supplanted by machines – cell phones, personal computers and especially the Internet – which replaced them at the end of the 20th century. “
He recalls “wonderful, grandiose and sometimes criminal people I have met when buying and selling books; the unusual books I’ve found and the strange places I’ve found. “
Among the inhabitants of this colorful world were book scouts, one of whom was so poor that he lived in his van and showered in public toilets using pipes and trash bags. Another was so far from the net that he lived in the woods under a tarp. Yet these people were an integral part of the business, selling the books they found to Goodman and other dealers.
There were also book thieves. Goodman had brief contact with Stephen Bloomberg of St. Paul. Known as the Book Thug, Bloomberg entered the Arcade store several times, stopping in the doorway, “looking around with his dull eyes.” In the end, he asked Goodman if he had a rare book room: “I said that not only did I not have a rare book room, but I don’t think I have rare books either.” In 1990, Bloomberg, who came from a wealthy family, was arrested for stealing 23,600 books worth about $ 20 million in 2021.
Then there was Raylene, whom Goodman describes as “one of the brightest” collectors in St. Paul. Searching for years for the photo albums her mother sold, she filled three houses in St. Paul’s Midway area with books. After her death, it emerged that one of the houses was so structurally damaged due to the weight of the books that it had to be demolished. …
Goodman never knew where his book trips would take him. Sometimes families would ask him to buy all the books of a deceased collector.
One visit that saddened him was at a house in San Diego where a woman wanted to get rid of her husband’s library. The husband was in the final stages of dementia, but he was clear enough to know that this stranger was taking his collection. He took the book out of the box and ran away with it, causing his wife to scream at him like a child. When Goodman suggested that he keep some books to comfort the man, the witch said that he would not need them in the nursing home.
In 1989, Goodman, Mary Pat, and their six children moved to Stillwater and met experienced bookseller Jim Cummings, who also lived in the then sleepy river town. Miraculously, Goodman found a buyer for his store on Arcadnaya Street in St. Paul, and he and Cummings, along with Tom Loom, opened antique book stores in Santa Cruz. In 1994, the Stillwater Book Center opened with 30 booksellers and 90,000 books. This gave Stillwater 500,000 books within a four-block neighborhood, including The Loome’s Theological Booksellers, who worked in a beautiful old church on the hill, and Cummings, who sold from his home.
Goodman heard of the Book City idea when he visited the small town of Lonely Dove author Larry McMurtry’s Archer City on the windy plains of Texas, where the bestselling author bought several houses and filled them with books.
Stuffed with books, Stillwater may be considered the official Book City, as declared by “King” Richard Booth, the quirky founder of the book city movement from his “kingdom” in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, where books have filled many structures. , including the private castle of Booth. On an official visit to Stillwater in 1994, Booth wore his paper crown and held a bowl made from a toilet float to mark Stillwater as North America’s first book city. (Booth’s visit drew reporters from the Twin Cities newspapers and other media outlets, but what didn’t make the news was that the king sometimes didn’t pay for the books he bought.)
From 1990 to 1996, Goodman writes, Stillwater was “a kind of utopian bookselling community.”
This all changed rapidly from 1997 to 2000, when “online selling platforms, especially those developed by Amazon and eBay, began to have a profound impact on businesses, a business that had functioned almost unchanged for 600 years,” he writes.
The Stillwater Book Center closed in 1998, and Goodman’s store lasted for several years selling hand-painted 19th-century architectural maps. In 2017, he announced that the Main Street store would close.
However, Goodman makes it clear in the tone of his book that he stepped into a life of adventure when he entered this filthy bookstore on Arcadnaya Street where a quart of Ripple wine was sold for 98 cents from a nearby liquor store.