The book seller (3/7/2023)
He must have been in his mid-fifties when I knew him, and I only knew his last name. I doubt if anyone knew his first name.
Let’s call him Mr. N. He owned a small bookstore on the corner of a busy street. It was an old building and you had to go up two steps to the entrance.
He specialized in antique and vintage books with emphasis on local art and history. It was the to-go place for people who were looking for something specific.
The place used to be a house, and as such it still had different areas which used to be the living room, bedrooms and such. The small kitchen was still there, with just enough space left for the coffee maker.
Moving from one section to the next could be a challenge. The place was always jam packed. There were not enough shelves to hold all books and tall stacks of them were all over the floor. One wrong move and you would topple one of those piles.
There was an old oak kitchen table in the front and one my first visits it was still clearly visible. Over time the space on the top grew smaller and smaller and eventually the table disappeared into the sea of books. One tiny corner of the top was left clear, so he had space for the coffee mug.
Two chairs were available, one for Mr. N. himself of course, the other for a customer or someone who just stopped by to talk.
Mr. N was talkative, but only to people he liked. If you were not on his list of favorites he could be hard to deal with.
On one of my (business) visits he offered me coffee and I had to clear the seat of the second chair so I could sit down. Then the door opened and a man came in, that was also the store limit. There was no room in the entire place for more than two visitors.
The man mentioned the title of the book he was looking for. Mr. N shook his head and said: “Sorry, I don’t have that one.”
The customer pointed his finger at the shelf behind Mr. N.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I see four of them right behind you there.”
Mr. N remained unfazed.
“No, I don’t have it. Goodbye.”
The man gave up and left without saying another word.
Of course, I had to ask a question.
“Why didn’t want to sell one to him?”
He took a sip of coffee before he answered:
“Because I don’t like that guy.”
That was Mr. N, if he didn’t like someone he would not do business with that person. Luckily he did like me and he always appreciated it when I came in, either for business or just a chat.
One day he took me to his warehouse. A fairly big place that matched the store, so to speak. The actual floor was not visible anywhere. A layer of books, about three feet tall, stretched out from right behind the door all the way to the back. There were piles of them, some six feet tall. And it looked that the books had been delivered with a dump truck.
However, Mr. N knew exactly where to find the ones he was looking for. He must have had a great memory.
Then came the moment when I quit my job and left town and I dropped in to say good bye.
He shook my hand. “You will be missed,” he said.
Recently I found out that he passed away after a short illness.
I guess I can say the same thing now: “You will be missed.”