Wednesday, January 5, 2011
From The Phoenix Newspaper (Boston, MA) Sept 28, 1971
By Stan Trachtenberg
West Street in downtown Boston is between Tremont and Washington, just around the corner from the Combat Zone. Nudie movies, hard core porn novelties and book stores. A lot of popcorn around. Mickey Finn's is on the end of the block. Around the corner at the Mayflower, the first Boston showing of "Nurse Made". But in the middle of the block in a five story building that used to be the old Codman estate and is now owned by the Boston Art Museum there's George Gloss's Bratte Book Store-at least for a while.
Since opening in a basement at 32 Brattle Street nearly 25 years ago, Gloss has been forced to move four times by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Each time he has held giant sales and then given away most of his remaining stock. It keeps getting harder each time. Gloss, whofigures he takes in over 2000 books each weekcurrently has 350,000 titles piles up. Along with maps, posters, movie stills, stereopticon slides, and artifacts his wife and daughters borugh back froma trip to Equador, the books choke the stalls on all five sloors and spill over onto the aisles and along the stairway.
Gloss gets up at six in the morning every day to find more. He goes to junkyards, to warehouses, thrift shops, charity sales. "It's like a treasure hunt," he explains, "I feel like a kid looking for buried treasure."
Once he found a $5 diary of the Gold Rush by a man named John Miller who left Boston for California in 1849.. Another of his finds was an 1833 edition of Beaumont's classic study of the digestive system. Both went for $750. More recently he came across what he thinks is a letter from Andre Previn noting that his wife, Mia Farrow, planned to play Joan of Arc using real fire at the stake.
Gloss is ready to move all the time. Even behind the large desk right at the door he is always in motion, answering the phone, ringing up a sale, or just talking to his customers. They range from Red Skelton to the Reverend Frederick Meek of the Old South Church. From the late President Kennedy to a man with cracked glasses trying to supplent his relief check by selling an old copy of Elmer Gantry. Gloss has time for everyone. Even the more than 200 applicants who showed up last winter when he advertised for a store clerk. One of them loved books so much he drew a heart with an arrow through it on his letter. "We don't sell books here, anyway," Gloss says, "We give therapy."
A white haired old lady in a house dress down to her ankles comes up with two paperbacks: Teen Age Terror is one, The Greatest Story Ever Told is the other. George sells them without blinking. AS she goes out he turns as though correcting an impression. "We get a lot of young people in here," he says, "a lot of college students." Sure enough one of them looking a slightly pregnant 15 comes up with a copy of Roget's Thesaurus. It cost $1. Gloss wraps it in a double stregnth grocery bag, the only large one he has handy. "As far as this store is concerned," he says, McLuhan doesn't exist-except to my customers. They read him."
Gloss isn't worried about the pron shops that keep opening around the corner, either. "Listen, " he says, "We've always had that stuff around. All the way from Upton Sinclair's fig leaf edition of Oil ( in which fig leaves were substituted for objectionable material in a Boston printing.) We carried Krafft Ebbig and Freud and Stekel. I'll tell you men used to come up to ask for Boccaccio and Maupassant in whispers. All those unexpurged books they used to think of as spicy. Now they're right out on the table. I don't think that market today is much of a threat. The minute something becomes too available, people get bored with it."
A woman with a rich southern accent comes to ask about "Lincoln" books. "Abraham or Joe," Gloss asks her, "Joe" she says, laughing in a friendly way. Gloss ducks from behind the desk to show her the section.
"I tell you one threat to the book business," he says when he comes back, "the BRA. Urban renewal is kicking the bookshops out of those old buildings where the rests are low. Book sellers can't live in the center of the city any more. They're moving to the suburbs and even further out. They're moving into old barns, things like that."
He grabs the phone off teh hook as though he expected someone from the Authority t be on the other end. Instead he assures the caller that he can get as many copies of Anna and the King of Siam as they want. As soon as he hangs up it rings again. This time someone wants Bill Buckley's McCarthy and His Enemies. Gloss asks his son Kenny to look in the conservative section. "You'd be surprised how large that's gotten in the last year or so," he says. "That and woman's lib and black power. That's a big jump from when I first started out. It used to be a lot of science fiction. H.P. Lovecraft, that sort of thing. Now they read Herman Hesse. Serious stuff, you know." His son came back to say they were out of the Buckley book.
A man comes up to the desk wearing a green sport shirt hanging over his pants. The pants are coffee brown, cut full in the legs the way they wore them in the '40s. "Do you think you can use this somewhere George?" hes asks, handing over a folded newspaper. The Sporting News 1946. "Careful, you've got two of them there."
Gloss seperates them carefully. "1946, that's like yesterday."
"Yesterday? Here let me show you something. This pitcher for Cleveland, Feller? It shows you where he made $175,000 with all his tours and everything. That was a lot of moeny in those days."
Gloss offers him $1.
"Can you let me have $1.75. I am a business man too, you know."
"What business, " Gloss wants to know.
"Oh, hell, any business is business, you know?"
"Well, " Gloss says. "I'll tell you. If you want to hold onto these for about 50 more years they might be worth something. Right now a dollar is all I can give you for them."
"Well, I think I'll hold onto them then," the sport shirt tells him. "My daughter is learning to type. Maybe I'll get her to write to one of these here people they write about. They might want to have one of these. Listen, you ought to get some air conditioning in here. The hell with the customers. You got to take care of yourself."
It's probably the one thing he's said that Gloss hasn't listened to.