Remembering Sidney Kramer

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

Sidney Kramer

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

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.

Save Westport Now

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.



20 responses to “Remembering Sidney Kramer

  1. Who will Save Westport Now ?

    RIP, Sidney…

  2. I’ve always wondered if “The Shop Around the Corner” from Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail” was based on “The Remarkable Book Shop”?

  3. Wonderful people, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer both. My first job was at Remarkable in 1967. I had a summer job there before college, and saved enough to buy my first good guitar. I loved working there. Sincere condolences to the family.

  4. Sidney and Esther were Remarkable people. They lived long, fulfilling lives. One of the reasons Westport is such a wonderful town is due to their contributions. They will be missed. RIP, Sidney.

  5. Sidney was the most wonderful man and I will miss him very much. My memories of both he and Esther go way back into my childhood when they were dear friends of my parents and their son, Mark, was best friends with my sister, Perii. When my mom remarried years ago, they offered their garden on Bluewater Hill, and Sidney performed the ceremony (among all the other hats he wore he was also a Justice of the Peace). In my many visits with them over the years he offered wise words and much heart lifting humor. What a guy! I’ve missed Esther since her passing in 2012, and now, with Sid gone it feels like the end of a very memorable era in Westport.

  6. For those of us who knew Sidney Kramer as the father of our 1960 classmate Wendy, he was a silent mentor who helped many of us teens become better adults by his example. He never let his superior intellect interfere with his common sense, and always made his points with wry humor. A few of us were most fortunate to spend an evening with him at his home during our 50th reunion. He hadn’t lost a step.

  7. So true. Chatting with Mr. Kramer the evening of our 50th remains a highlight for me. While our political views were at opposite ends of the spectrum, his respect for my opposing view…..and mine for his…. was very refreshing. It’s a lesson our whole country would be wise to learn.

    R.I.P. “Mr. Kramer”……you made a difference in many lives…

  8. Sending warm wishes to the Kramer family. Seeing the picture of the shop gives me chills. They were as Westport as Westport gets…

  9. Margaret Manser

    Sid and Esther were the first adult bright lights I encountered when, long ago, I came to Westport as a very green teenager from a faraway western state. They were models in life and discernment, elegant and ageless. The world is darker tonight with Sid’s light extinguished.

  10. A true treasure of Westport who contributed so much to this town will never be forgotten!

  11. kathleen burke

    Remarkable may not have been the inspiration for “You’ve Got Mail!”, but it did inspire another film’s bookstore; Cathleen Schine’s novel “The Loveletter” featured a charming, quirky bookstore much like the one she worked at herself. It was Remarkable.

    I also want to share a beautiful watercolor postcard by Walter Dubois Richards of the Gorham House, created as part of the campaign that sparked “Save Westport”. If I didn’t buy it at Remarkable back then, I must have purchased it from Nina at Max’s, now gone.

    I will post it when I can find a way to attach it.

    • I didn’t know “The Love Letter” was turned into a film. I read the book which I highly recommend and, yes, the bookstore definitely resembled the Remarkable.

    • Kathleen, if you want my help in scanning the postcard (Wally Richards was a good friend of my parents’, lived in New Canaan and helped start the Fairfield Watercolor Group with my dad and Stevan Dohanos that existed for 50 years) and attaching it to this blog, I’ll be glad to do it. Just give me a call at 203-221-1944. I’d love to see it because the loss of the beautiful Gorham House (replaced by the “gold office building” in the marshland behind Parker Harding Plaza) really did wake up Westporters (thanks to Sidney and Save Westport Now) that our precious landmarks could be gone in a flash.

  12. Douglass Davidoff

    I did not know the Kramers well. But my dad knew them — and thanks to that connection, we went sailing with the Kramers a few times. Their sailboat was quite special, though I’ve forgotten why. Of course, the boat was named, “Remarkable.” Good sailing, Kramers.

  13. When the Remarkable closed, I asked Sidney if he would give the sign from the building to the Historical Society, and let us call the shop the Remarkable Gift Shop — so it was installed on the wall outside the gift shop, where you can see it when you go there to shop…a wonderful memory of a piece of Westport history…

  14. I really loved Sidney. His witty comebacks, his genuine love of the field of children’s books, his integrity in truly trying to make Westport a community (Save Westport Now backs some great projects) and his warmth and affection for our family. He was the one who encouraged my dad to make a trust and guided him through the process, not know that Dad (Hardie Gramatky who was a well-known watercolorist and author-illustrator of the Little Toot books) would get cancer and die early at age 72. Sidney guided us through the years and was always enthusiastic about some new idea of “what do do with Little Toot”. He wanted to have it and the sequels published in Spanish (he did arrange for Japanese, Thai, Danish, Swahili, Afrikaans and a bunch more languages) but that was the only goal he never accomplished. A great personal friend and one of my favorite guys. AND he was married that wonderful, irrepressible Esther, whose enthusiasm was a match for his own. Ken and I will miss him very much and will be there on January 24 to absolutely CELEBRATE the life of this outstanding Westporter!!

  15. Sidney and I almost never agreed on local issues and frequesntly clashed in public. In fact, my advocacy for development on Gorham Island may have been the genesis of Save Westport Now. But despite oyur disagreements, I always had the greatest respect for the integrity and consistency of his views, his mischevious and sometimes biting wit and his manifest concern for Westport’s future. He was a wise and formidable adversary and a fine gentleman. I’m only sorry he didn’t make it too 100.