A recent “0688o” post — about the evolution of the vest-pocket park on the corner of Post Road and Main Street, from wooden benches and trees to concrete plaza — drew the usual slew of comments.
What a shame! some wailed.
You can’t stop progress! others countered. (I’m paraphrasing here.)
And there, smack in the middle, was this:
Now is about the time someone laments the passing of the Remarkable Book Store.
It’s always a good time to lament the passing of “Remarkable.”
For the increasing number of Westporters who never knew it, Remarkable was a homey shop in a former 1700s home at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harder Plaza (the exact end of the block that starts with the new concrete “park,” come to think of it).
The 2011 way to describe it: It’s now Talbots.
“Remarkable” — the name, uber-cleverly, referred not just to its books, maps and knick-knacks but to the backward spelling of owner Esther Kramer’s last name — was painted a distinctive pink.
Even more remarkable was what was inside. Books on every topic imaginable — including cutting-edge topics like women’s rights — filled uneven shelves. Overstuffed chairs invited browsers to sit, read and linger, long before Barnes & Noble turned that concept into corporate policy.
A cat curled in the corner.
The floor was wooden, and uneven — something Esther and her staff never were. They knew every customer — from Paul Newman and hotshot writers down to 3rd graders — by name. Esther and her staff knew everyone’s tastes, and never hesitated to recommend a good read.
They knew what a local bookstore could — and should — be: A community gathering place. Warm, friendly, funky. Something remarkable, which no one seemed to remark upon until it was gone.
If some of those words sound familiar, it’s because I wrote them last April, shortly after Esther Kramer’s death.
I lamented the passing of the owner. And I lamented the bookstore’s passing too.
So sue me.
I’m not naive. Having written 16 books myself, I know the economics of bookstores. The bulk of my royalties came from Barnes & Noble and Amazon, not Giovanni’s Room (just hanging on in Philadelphia) or A Different Light (its 3 locations — New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles — are all closed).
Where do I buy my books? Barnes & Noble. Amazon. The iPad store.
But being a realist doesn’t mean I can’t lament the loss of a mom-and-pop (pop was Sidney Kramer, a noted New York publisher) store that was funky, familiar and fun.
A store that added a bit of life to downtown, at a time when other locally owned shops sold African clothing, records, used blue jeans and pizza. (Okay, Westport Pizzeria‘s still there.)
I know we won’t see a return of those shops to Main Street. Nor will we see small bookstores with knowledgeable clerks and a cat curled in the corner cropping up like, um, Gaps in airport terminals.
Santayana said (basically), those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
I say, those who diss our past are doomed to spend their lives in soulless corporate boxes, not knowing what they missed.
Though the parking, prices and pastries at Barnes & Noble are all pretty good.