The Strand Bookstore, a New York institution on Broadway and 12th Street, is famously home to 18 miles' worth of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books. The store recently expanded, adding a second floor devoted to art and a third floor housing rare books, with more additions and renovations currently underway.
Occupation, where are you from, where are you now?
I'm co-owner of Strand, with my dad, Fred Bass. It was founded by my grandfather, Benjamin Bass, in 1927. I grew up in Westchester County, in Pelham Manor, and I now live a block away from the store. I've been living in the city for 16 or 17 years, always in this neighborhood, walking distance from the store.
A few for you:
What was it like growing up with the bookstore?
One of my earliest memories is going to the kids' books section with my hands out and saying I could have any book I wanted! I wanted to help out all the time. I remember as a toddler asking the employees if I could sharpen their pencils. And then I was always recruited to work here, answering phones in the summers, I cashiered a lot, worked in the review section, on the main floor.
How do you calculate the mileage?
We measure the books across. It's an educated estimates. We'll measure some and multiply it. We really didn't change the sign for a long time because it was our symbol. It was originally coined by the journalist George Will in 1970. The beginning of his article says, "The eight miles worth saving in the city are at the corner of Broadway and 12th street. They are the grand shelves of Strand Bookstore." That's where our tagline comes from. When we acquired the other floor, we decided to change it to 16 miles, and then realized it was more accurate at 18. It takes some effort to change the stationary and bookmarks and T-shirts, I don't know if we'll change it again soon.
People probably don't realize that so many bookshelves in offices, storefronts, and movie sets were designed by Strand. What were some of the most challenging requests?
It's challenging when they give me a period. A Beautiful Mind was challenging, because that was math textbooks from the 50s. Cider House Rules, we did that -- medical books in Michael Caine's office from the early 1900s. The easy ones are medical offices and law offices. Sometimes people ask for a Greenwich Village hipster thing. It's fun to do, it's creative. We did the backdrop for "Oz." That was kind of fun to do a prison library.
What are some of your rarest books?
Our rarest book is a Shakespeare, worth $125,000. It's a second printing, or second folio. It's in our gold safe. It's from 1632, it's leather bound and has beautiful pages. Our oldest book is from the 15th century, it's written in calligraphy and it's beautiful. We have a Gone with the Wind first edition, for $10,000. We have a first edition Lewis Carroll.
How long do rare books stay at Strand before being snatched up by collectors?
Sometimes they go right away. We don't really want the Shakespeare to leave. I don't really want the Gone with the Wind to go either. We price things fair with our rare books, and all of our books are discounted in the store. We want people to leave feeling they've gotten a bargain or a fair deal. We have customers who come to the store every single day. Treasure hunters. We get new things every day, and they want to be there to find that gem.
Are you familiar with the Strand Sucks blog?
No! I'll look for it. There's 210 people here. You're just not going to keep everyone happy. But I can't think of a better place to work selling books. I only hire people who love literature.
I understand Christo is on his way to Strand?
Tonight, there is a signing by Christo. It's the first bookstore they're doing, of only three. They chose the Strand. They'll be in our new art floor, which has been open only a month and a half. Everybody's very excited about it. It's from six to eight, and customers are asking if they should come here at two o'clock. They're like rock stars.
What other events have you held, or are planned?
I want to plan more events, to get more active with authors we like. Brian Lamb was here from C-Span to shoot a four-hour program, in August, during the weekend of the Republican Convention. He brought a lot or political authors, Democrats and Republicans, to argue over issues. We had Art Spiegelman here. That was his first time out signing for his latest book. I've had private parties and book signings for Walter Isaacson, Simon Winchester, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, who I love, and David Sedaris. A lot of authors came by and signed books when we didn't have the space, and we just put them on our bestseller table, and sold Strand signed copies discounted.
What's the best bargain to be found in the city?
Aside from all the books in the store? Manicures and pedicures are a pretty good buy. It's a luxury, a way to be pampered and feel polished, a way to get away from things. To feel like you're almost transported away from the city's stresses.
If you could pass one law affecting the city, what would it be?
I think people should spend more time reading. I would make everyone shut off their TV set or Internet for one hour and pick up a book. I'd start with one hour, but I'd gradually increase it, like taxes.
What bygone place or thing do you wish were still around?
I think the city keeps improving, keeps getting better and better. I just wish the apartments were cheaper.
Besides Strand, what location would you declare a landmark?
I like to run--I'm not really going to answer your question, but I love when I'm running and the city passing by feels like a quilt. There's this patch of neighborhood, that patch, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Financial District… I love running up Fifth Avenue, Central Park. So I'd say the neighborhoods should be landmarked. The diversity.
What's your favorite or least favorite thing about this neighborhood?
My favorite thing about this neighborhood is that it has everything. Restaurants in Union Square, great gyms, spas. The subway's right here. I don't have any complaints. I think the people are great here, there's a real neighborhood feeling.
If the world were ending tomorrow, what would you do with your final 24 hours in NYC?
I'd be here at the bookstore. I love it here, I really do. I can't think of anything more wonderful than to work with something that you love and with a family member. You feel like you're building something and working as a team.