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Posted By DMB

I am almost finished moving my 6,000 sq. ft. storage into a new location which, being only 1,500 sq. ft., necessitated a drastic revision of much of the philosophy which has motivated me for the last fifty years. It has been perhaps the most onerous experience, certainly the most painful one, of my career as a bookseller.

The landlord of my storage gave me notice and I have in turn been forced to confront many changes: the errors and miscalculations I’ve made, some innocent, some stupid, some due to the way the world works. Recent changes due to the electronic revolution have reached every obscure level of economics. A combination of those changes, combined with the disappearance of slums in our major cities, have affected booksellers (and lots of other businesses). The world has changed and those of us who based our lives on the old ways have had to adapt. Or die. Bankruptcy has never been an alternative for booksellers, we can’t even afford to go bankrupt, it’s too expensive for booksellers.

But most important, all this mess has necessitated that I recognize and deal with my mortality, something none of us want to do. This crisis caused me to dissolve several collections I’ve worked on for years but, most horrendous, I had to make decisions on my private library, 90% of which has been in storage since we moved from a house to an apartment some years ago. I shall write of this later, the only case I know of where a private reading library has been broken up by the owner while he’s still alive… I don’t mean collections; I mean a private library – like yours. It was very weird and very painful.

All booksellers – I guess all businesses which sell things – need storage. With young booksellers storage means a closet, then a backroom, soon a basement, then – space problems. Inevitable with growth, that leads to a separate premise, called “storage,” or “the warehouse”. These places are of great mystery and intrigue to other booksellers and collectors, for the very words suggest unnoticed or forgotten treasures and they often do contain them. They can hold such things as 350 copies of a first edition salvaged as remainders forty years ago and thought by others to be rare. But more often they contain errors, disappointing purchases that the bookseller throws in there “until later” when they will be sought after and desirable to the world. Later usually means the bookseller’s death, when wiser persons toss the junk in the garbage. But as I have recently found out, when “later” occurs before the bookseller’s demise he finds all his illusions, contradictions, gross errors, and broken dreams facing him. And time and economics demand he deal with them now. Most dealers also have large numbers of defective books, lacking maps, plates, or sets lacking a volume which they pathetically hope to match with missing parts, but almost never do.

I just dumped in the sales bins 200 copies of a small book of poetry that the author has spent many years searching out and destroying, another poet so embarrassed with an early book that he wants to obliterate it. These books – if the author is any good – can and do become quite valuable given enough time. I knew this writer as a young dealer when I put them away. What I didn’t understand was that 40 years isn’t really very long in book collecting. Now, there’s further torture for the poor author in his quest to destroy his youthful apprentice work. I, of course, have lost all my projected gain.

It is a horrible situation to be brought face to face with, the physical evidence of a lifetime of cruel blows – the physical challenge alone would be overwhelming to all but a Churchill. Or a bookseller who has fifty years of proof that he must deal with whatever they throw at him because no one else will; a man who knows, as does the alcoholic who hits bottom, that he must save himself. And only he can.

My storage contained: Excess stock caused by two downsizings reducing store space. These were good books judged less desirable for show in the shop; general overstock, meaning multiple copies of good books (“You must never hold a book in contempt just because you have more than one copy of it,” Bernard Amtmann). In my case this also contained the largest miscalculation of my entire career, multiple copies of mint remainders of literary first editions bought as remainders very cheaply over forty years, meant to provide my “pension”. Books I paid 50¢ or $2.00 for forty years ago are still perfect first editions now priced at $45.00 to $75.00 but rendered unsaleable by the Internet where we find one hundred and fifty copies of these books, priced by my professional colleagues at the same prices as mine, but by countless other copies priced down to $5.00 and $10.00 by amateurs and the ignorant fools endemic to the Internet. It’s a cesspool for the unwary and not just with the cheap books. So, all my carefully amassed books are worthless. For a change, not due to my own errors but because of “progress”, another unforeseen result of the Internet’s universality. And it’s not just me, as collectors are learning as they attempt to sell books worth less than $100.00 or $200.00 dollars only to find people like me don’t want almost all of them.

At our downsizing a couple of years ago when we cut our space in half, I ended up giving away some 3,000 or so books to a colleague for they were unsaleable to the young dealers. Now, not only have my lovely books been swallowed by the maw, but so has my colleague. She had the best used bookstore in Toronto, adjacent to the University. Every University in the world has used bookstores beside them but the University of Toronto kicked her out to make room for a café so their students can relax over coffee. Nowhere to buy cheap books, to learn a bit about what faces them. Nor does the University of Toronto show any signs that they comprehend the nature of their sin against everything they’re supposed to stand for. Without books, what point is there to a university?

I will have much more to say about my move, now six months in, another to go, and a year or two rearranging the mess I’ve created.

 

I want to finish by passing on, as do all small people both in business and private citizens, some praise for the people who moved me.

All of us are scared to buy a used car, or call a plumber, or roofer (or a used bookseller), for fear of being gouged, robbed, or otherwise mistreated due to our ignorance. Guys like me do everything by word of mouth, recommendations by friends. We also like to pass on the names of the good ones.

The company that moved me I discovered by accident. They parked beside our Thornhill storage, my assistant, Norm, noticed them, we called them, were impressed by the way they presented themselves and gave them a try. They are a father/son business (Bob and Mike) and move everything. They were super, they came, gave me an hourly rate and did five huge moves (a 30’ cube van). They did it quickly, extremely efficiently, so well that I did not need to go to the destination after the first trip, they deposited all five huge loads neatly, carefully, leaving us aisles and spaces so we could navigate to make space for the next load. They were also careful, no doubt due to moving houses being their prime specialty.

Anyway, they operate as GENERAL MOVING, email address info@generalmoving.ca phone number is 416-876-6550. I can’t emphasize enough how important they were. When they took over the move it removed all my worries about all that aspect of the move. Which left me free to worry about the other 200 problems I faced.

More to come.
 

 

 

 
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