When Walter Pitkin turned a 1700’s-era sea captain’s house on Main Street into a map and book store, it thrived.
But he sold it to a man who, Sidney Kramer said, “slapped your hand if you picked up a book.” Within a couple of years, business turned sour.
So in the early 1960s, when Sidney’s wife Esther looked to open a bookstore, the stars were aligned. The Kramers bought the property — on the corner of Parker Harding Plaza — and opened the Remarkable Book Shop.
“Remarkable” — the name not only described the store, but contained the name “Kramer” spelled backward — was an instant success.
The low ceilings and sloping wood floors gave it a funky charm. Esther and her band of loyal, learned employees — women like Esta Burroughs, Rita Engelbardt and Wendy Newton — stocked the shelves with an eclectic collection of bestsellers, classics, hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind releases, art and photography books, poetry, political manifestos, and nearly everything else.
They added funky gifts and posters. They painted the exterior a memorable shade of pink.
Large, comfy chairs invited lounging. When customers tore pages out of cookbooks, Esther put up a pad and pencil and invited people to copy recipes.
Eventually, Remarkable took over the space next door — Record Hunter. The Kramers — Sid was an attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — added space underneath, renting first to a barber, then a succession of gift shops.
The setup of the book store — with its warren of small rooms — made it warm and welcoming. But Sid calls the layout “a pain in the ass. We could never see our customers.”
Because the Kramers owned the building, they succeeded in the always-difficult book world. “If we had to pay rent, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Sid — now 98, and with a razor-sharp memory — says.
But the arrival of Barnes & Noble marked the beginning of the end. The discount megastore siphoned off enough customers to force the Kramers to close. Paul Newman called, begging them to reconsider, but — after 34 years — the decision stood.
Nearly 20 years ago Talbots took over — a watershed moment in the Main Street march from mom-and-pop shops to chains.
Two years ago, Esther Kramer died. She was 93 years old.
Last year, Talbots consolidated its wares into the old Record Hunter wing.
Earlier this month, the Kramer family sold the 3,500-square foot building. It fetched $4.2 million.
That’s a lot of money.
But for Westporters of a certain age — who grew up in a certain era — the memories of Remarkable Book Shop are worth much, more more.