The storefront at 48 Hicks Street is now vacant but it was once a used antiquarian bookstore owned by one of New York City’s legendary booksellers. Jack Biblo, who along with partner Jack Tannen owned and operated Biblo and Tannen’s one of Manhattan’s largest bookstores, spent his final years running a much smaller bookstore — open only on weekends — at the Hicks Street location.
After a cross-country hitch-hike, Biblo opened his Manhattan store in 1928 with $300 borrowed from his mother. He convinced Tannen, a tie salesman/aspiring actor/his best customer, to be his partner. During the Great Depression the pair hit tough times and made ends meet by selling “erotica” from under the counter.
As for what book business was like in the early days of Manhattan’s Book Row, Biblo told the New York Times, ”We were all a little peculiar. When I started, you had an old Russian revolutionary down the street who kept a wood-burning stove in the middle of his store. If he liked you, he gave you a cup of tea. If he didn’t like you, he threw you out. If he told you a price and you said you’d think about it, he’d double the price.”
Biblo and his partner are also remembered for their publishing house Canaveral Press. Among other books, it republished hard bound editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan series and other works by the author that had fallen into the public domain.
He and his partner closed their Manhattan store in 1979 due to rising costs, dwindling profits and Mr. Tannen’s allergies (Tannen died in 1991).
Biblo died in 1998 at the age of 91. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Biblo never realized his dreams of traveling to Africa to “look for Tarzan” or reading every book in the public library.
Jack’s wife Frances ran the Hicks Street store until her death in 2004.
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