Sidney Kramer would have been 100 years old on January 21.
He didn’t make it. He died earlier today, 64 years after moving to Westport.
But that’s one of the few things he did not accomplish in a long, productive and well-lived life.
Sidney Kramer was a major player in the publishing world. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — the original paperback house, founded during World War II when newsprint was scarce — he was better known locally as the owner of The Remarkable Bookshop.
For more than 30 years the pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza was beloved for its floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with new releases, poetry, cookbooks, obscure volumes and funky gifts; its cozy rooms, well-worn couches and sloping floors, and the encyclopedic knowledge of everyone who worked there.
Sidney’s wife Esther managed the store. She died in April 2011, at 93.
Remarkable made national headlines in 1978 when it refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography because — in Kramer’s words — “we thought he was a rascal.” The store owner noted that it was not a freedom of speech issue. He even walked patrons down the street to Klein’s, which sold the book.
In 2001 — in recognition of the service Remarkable Book Shop provided — Sidney and Esther Kramer received Westport’s Arts Award.
The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop
But Remarkable — whose perfect name, serendipitously, includes “Kramer” spelled backwards — was not Sidney Kramer’s major contribution to Westport.
In 1981 he helped found Save Westport Now. Originally organized to prevent an enormous office building from replacing a century-old Victorian house on Gorham Island — diagonally across the parking lot from Remarkable — Save Westport Now soon evolved into a 3rd political party.
It lost the Gorham Island war. But it won a battle along the way: The green-tinted office was originally planned to be much higher than it is now.
For the next 3 decades, Kramer and other activists monitored the Planning and Zoning Commission. They were particularly involved in issues like parking and the height of new buildings.
Save Westport Now said:
Mr. Kramer was never reticent in voicing his opinions about the manner in which over-reaching development would damage the character of his town. His analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes. Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke. And we all listened, learned and benefited.
Kramer was born in the Bronx in 1915. His parents emigrated to the US from Vilna and Minsk, in the 1890s. After graduating from NYU and Brooklyn Law School, Kramer served as counsel, accountant and eventually part owner of Penguin Books.
After Bantam he worked with other publishing companies, and was president of New American Library. In 1961 he founded Mews Books Ltd., a literary agency representing authors like Richard Scarry and Hardie Gramatky.
Sidney Kramer is survived by his son Mark of Newton, Massachusetts, the founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University and the author of many works of narrative non-fiction; his daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago; 4 grandchildren — and a very grateful Westport.
A memorial service is set for Saturday, January 24 (11:30 a.m., Westport Library). It’s 3 days after what would have been his 100th birthday.