Bookstores Long Gone Live On via South of Union Square Tour
Once upon a time, people bought almost all of their books in bookstores. People still do a lot of literary shopping in local storefronts, and our neighborhoods still have many beloved shops for the experience and joy of buying books in person — but not nearly as many as in years past. Starting in the late 19th century and stretching well into the 20th, the area South of Union Square was filled with bookstores of all types, including those selling secondhand and rare books on a section of Fourth Avenue that came to be known as Bookseller’s Row or Book Row.
The legacy of Bookseller’s Row and its neighboring sites are among the cultural histories Village Preservation is working to protect in our proposed South of Union Square Historic District, and a focus of one of the many tours in our series of South of Union Square Map + Tours. Here are just a few of the locations on the tour that recall dusty bookshelves, mysterious shop corners, and the thrill of finding that one great book to mark your next literary journey.
Dauber & Pine Bookshop
Samuel Dauber and Nathan Pine became business partners in 1922, and opened their eponymous store at 66 Fifth Avenue the next year. The secondhand bookstore thrived here for decades, offering some 200,000 volumes for sale on its main floor and dim basement. Dauber & Pine developed a reputation as not being “a place for the fastidious,” Jonathan Yardley wrote in The Washington Post in 1983. “So far as I know its floors never made the acquaintance of a vacuum, nor were its tables and shelves favored with the attentions of a feather duster.”
By the 1980s, the store was being managed almost solely by Dauber’s son Murray, then in his 70s. He decided to close the store in 1983, after receiving an eviction notice from The New School and after observing how bookbuying had changed while he was in charge of the store, saying people “don’t have the space anymore to collect all kinds of books” in The New York Times. ”There used to be lots of apartments around here with 5,000 or 10,000 books. None of the young people have that kind of space.”
No. 64-66 Fifth Avenue has a noteworthy history South of Union Square beyond Dauber & Pine: a home for Macmillan Co. Publishers in the 1890s, the Fifth Avenue Playhouse starting in the 1920s, and Martha Graham’s first dance studio in the 1930s (which we honored with a historic plaque in 2015). Read more about that history here.
University Place Book Shop
The University Place Book Shop was founded on its namesake street in 1932, and called several addresses in South of Union Square home: it was listed at 105 University Place in 1936–37, then moved to 69 University Place (part of the Hotel Albert) in 1939, and finally ended up at 821 Broadway, where it stayed from at least the 1970s through 1995.
The store’s founder was Walter Goodwater, born in Harlem in 1907 the son of noteworthy political radical Dr. Abraham Goldwater. The younger Goldwater established the store with the help of bookdealer and scout Abe Sugarman, who was also the uncle of Goldwater’s wife, Eleanor Lowenstein, the eventual proprietor of the Corner Book Shop at 102 Fourth Avenue.
When Goldwater opened his store, its offerings primarily focussed on Russia, radicalism, and chess. In 1933, NAACP leader Arthur Springarn placed a standing request with the owner for any books he could find by Black authors. Soon enough, Goldwater amassed an expansive inventory of published works — at one point the nation’s largest collection — by Black writers and on Black Studies, Caribbean Studies, and African Studies. The University Place Book Shop became a go-to resource in those fields. While running the store, Goldwater also maintained friendships with such esteemed authors as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and his customers included Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Atlanta, Fisk, Howard, and Tuskegee Universities. In the 1950s, Goldwater issued a new edition of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction.
Just six days before his death in 1985, the Village Voice wrote about Goldwater and his store’s “seemingly stifling clutter [which] is as charming as its affable unpretentious owner … Despite what appears to be chaos, all the books are perfectly alphabetized. In fact, the inherent, albeit organized, funkiness of the bookshop is its heart and soul. And Goldwater wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The store closed in 1995, and its collection of 70,000–80,000 tomes was bought by NYU for $47,500.
Raven Book Shop
In 1934, Bernard Kraus opened a used bookstore at 112 Fourth Avenue that specialized in American and English literature, with an emphasis on criticism and scholarly works. The name of the book shop, Raven, was selected for its associations with American literature and its welcoming, homey connotations.
The Raven Book Shop was a charter member of the Fourth Avenue Booksellers’ Association, developed in 1942 in response to a campaign by officials to ban sidewalk book stands, and functioned for over 25 years as a guiding force for the neighborhood’s booksellers. The store was also an early member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (as was the aforementioned Walter Goodwater). Other addresses for The Raven included 142 Fourth Avenue and 752 Broadway.
In a 1961 Village Voice article on the possible demise of Bookseller’s Row, Krauss succinctly summarized the fate of his chosen profession: “It’s a dying business, all right; it’s been dying for at least 5000 years.”
There are many other sadly departed but historic bookstores South of Union Square, and a couple of still-extant ones. So be sure to explore them all on our Booksellers Tour.