Posts Tagged ‘” Gotham Book Mart’

Wise men once fished at the Gotham Book Mart

May 25, 2017

New York is getting a new bookstore tomorrow—an actual brick and mortar shop run by Amazon on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, the shopping mall at Columbus Circle.

With Amazon about to open, let’s take a look back at a legendary cozy, dusty literary haven that operated at the other end of Midtown—the Gotham Book Mart.

[The photo above shows the store in 1945, with a window display by Marcel Duchamp.]

Gotham Book Mart, with its black and white framed photos of 20th century poets and writers and endless shelves and stacks of books, existed at three different locations in the Diamond District from 1920 to 2007.

It was the kind of place where you could duck in and quietly be transported into the world of James Joyce or T.S. Eliot.

Browsers were always welcome, and the store’s founder, Frances Steloff, defied censors who banned the sale of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer in the late 1920s and 1930s.

“Wise Men Fish Here” read the iconic sign outside the door. Indeed. Only a handful of these old-school literary paradises remain.

[Top photo:; second photo: Alamy; third image, MCNY: F2012.99.156]

A midtown bookstore’s 1930s censorship fight

December 6, 2010

“Wise Men Fish Here” stated the longtime sign at the entrance to the Gotham Book Mart, on 47th Street in the Diamond District.

From 1920 to 2007, literature-loving New Yorkers could get lost in this book heaven, perhaps the most independent of independent bookstores in pre-Barnes & Noble New York City.

That’s because its founder, Frances Steloff, had real courage facing down censors in the 1920s and 1930s.

She defiantly sold copies of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer after these books were declared obscene and banned from U.S. stores.

Steloff was even sued by an outfit called The Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1936 for selling copies of French writer Andre Gide’s biography.

That suit was tossed. And for the next seven decades, the store reigned as a reader’s paradise, with obscure and out-of-print books cluttered under black-and-white photos of famous authors visiting the premises.