Magic We Miss on Montague

I don’t just read books, I eat them, devour them. I am like an alcoholic, a junkie, a crack head. I can’t get enough of them. I’d always been grateful for the Heights Bookstore, just blocks from my home. I loved the smell of the store. I loved getting a coffee and a bagel from Lassen & Henning’s, and sitting outside on the benches, checking out the new window displays. I would peruse the dollar racks hoping against hope I would find something to read, and often I did. But if not, I’d wander inside. I loved the vintage pulp fiction in plastic bags. I loved the narrow aisles. I have a map of the store in my brain; to the left, the cash register. Directly in front of me, the signed first editions. To the right,  new arrivals. Further down the first aisle— religion and metaphysics. Fiction snaked along the back wall, A-Z. This place was home. I knew everyone. They played great music; jazz, original Broadway recordings, classical music; The Brandenburg Concertos, Chopin’s Preludes and Etudes.

I loved the people who worked there; bookish and nerdy, like me. I’d go in there if I was having a meltdown. I would feel better the instant I walked in; I liked the way I could hide in the stacks, walk all the way to the back, to the little room that had the biographies. Once when I writing a play on Dona Gracia, a Sephardic woman who lived in Venice in the 16th century, I found a book called Secrecy and Deceit. It was exactly what I was looking for— it had primary texts; prayers, letters, business receipts. All the flotsam and jetsam of a repressed culture; Jewish people forced to convert to Christianity during the Portuguese Inquisition. It added the exact right note of authenticity to the piece I was writing. I never dared dream I could find a source like this outside of the hallowed halls of academia.

And now it’s gone. The doors and the windows boarded up. I haven’t really allowed myself to deal with this. I’ve been rereading old books. I like the new bookstore on Atlantic Avenue, but its not the same. It’s a great store, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the wealth of popular fiction I crave. After all, even a literary crack head needs to read a little Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve or even Stephen King. It can’t always be Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion or Jose Saramago. Is this a sign of the financial times? Is it really too much to hope that small independent bookstores with personality and magic will remain viable? I’ve heard they’ve moved to Park Slope. I hope they continue to flourish. I hope another bookstore takes its place on Montague.

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  • BB

    They are only a 20 minute “stroll” away from Brooklyn Heights.
    120 Smith Street. The same old green sign is hanging over their new location. Stop by and visit.

    I know its not the same as having them in the back yard, but if you can make it all the way to Atlantic Avenue, then just walk 10 more minutes and you’ll find the old crew.

  • joseuribe

    This is the worst post I have ever read on BHB.

  • Leefamsince WWII

    I’ve heard their new place on Smith Street is bigger too. Maybe they managed to create a lil niche in the back somewhere.

  • jim

    i so enjoyed this post…you offered a beautiful description of the uniqueness of our hood’s former bookstore…thanks for posting !!

  • modsquad

    I agree with joseuribe. How provincial can you get? Apparently moving to Smith St. is the equivalent of going out of business? I find it interesting that you simply hope another bookstore takes their place, talk about loyalty! You do your “home away from home” a disservice by implying they’re out of business.

  • AEB

    Oh, come on! Why can’t one bemoan the disappearance of a vital LOCAL resource?

    The issue isn’t the relative availability of said resource; it’s having the thing close enough to be able to visit it without a forty-minute to-and-from jaunt; of feeling that it’s a part of one’s immediate world.

    At hand.

  • Ethan

    25 cents for a book they’d sell for 18 bucks by the most obnoxious people on in all of brooklyn heights? That was your home away from home? I hated that place. They had a book used for sale priced at $80. Online, first edition, with shipping, $8.00.

  • EB

    I feel the loss, too. Of course I can walk to the new location, and will, because I believe in supporting independent bookstores. But that will be a planned trek, not the spur-of-the-moment treasure hunting I used to do at Heights Books all the time. I love the staff and always came out of there with a great, cheap find and a smile. Having moved from the east village, where I could walk to some of the greatest book stores in the city (St. Marks Books, East Village Books, The Strand), I considered Heights Books a huge asset to the neighborhood.

  • BB

    I agree with Ethan — Heights Books was overpriced.

    I frequented the store, stalked its shelves, browsed its bottom-of-the-barrel outdoor racks, but I rarely bought from them because of the high prices.

    I understand that the store was on Montague Street and had rent and salaries to cover. I get that. But as a bargain hunter, I look for used books in the $4 to $7 range. Anything priced $10 or above, I can purchase at Bookcourt or online.

    I hope that the new Heights Books location will permit the store to lower its prices. If it does, they will see more dollars from bargain hunters like me.

  • MadeInBrooklyn

    Heights Book was over-priced and they were a rip off — books I sold them ended up on the shelf for about 500% more that what they paid me. Plus, that one portly guy who worked there was so pompous it hurt.

  • Anonymous

    If you want cheap used books to read, especially contemporary best seller types, you can usually find something at the Housing Works store on Montague. And the proceeds go to a charity.

  • Andrew Porter

    I was always waiting for a Building Inspector to walk in, take one look at he incredibly narrow aisles, and close the place down.

    What was incredibly dumb was that all those books they threw away in the dumpster, all the books they gave away at the end, were books that they’d paid Real Money for. Wasted money. Money that might have gone for stock they might have actually sold. They threw away thousands of dollars of books when they left, which goes to show how poorly run the place really was. By contrast, Atlantic Books (formerly of 12th Street in the Village) actually has a handle on the business, and has not (so far) burdened themselves with thousands of dollars worth of unsold and unsellable stock.