On Tuesday I had one of the most amazing book experiences of my life.
I was up in Cheshire, CT for a work meeting. Afterwards I planned on visiting a bookstore in Bethany. I called ahead and found they were closed on Tuesdays. So I opened Readar (a very handy app from LibraryThing) and looked for another bookstore to visit. (I’ve lived in CT for over a year now and am still in discovery mode.) Elliot’s Books caught my eye. From the information online it seemed like he was an internet bookseller, but I wasn’t certain and called the listed number.
“Hi, are you open today?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you open to the public?”
“It’s interesting you should ask,” pause, “because just yesterday I had signs made that we’d be open by appointment. I’ve been thinking about opening up to the public. You see, other than some friends, no one has seen my inventory since 1968.”
My heart fluttered. “Oh, wow,” I managed to reply.
The man on the other end of the call was Elliot, of Elliot’s Books. What ensued after this introduction was a conversation about how I found him, how he wants to start unloading his inventory, what sort of books I was interested in, and some history on Elliot’s bookselling past. He has over 200, 000 books on hand and only a small portion (5, 000) are listed online. The conversation ended with Elliot saying, “Why don’t you come over. You can be my beta test.”
I couldn’t get there fast enough. I knew I was driving toward a great adventure.
When I pulled into Elliot’s driveway in Northford, my pulse quickened as drove alongside the big red barn and pulled up in front. Elliot walked over from his house, which is on the same property, saying he’d been reading about me. He googled me and found my blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc., so he knew who to expect.
|The front part of what is a very long barn, 7-8,000 sq ft.|
Elliot lead me into his beautiful barn. Walking in I was stunned to behold the shelves, stacks, and levels of books before me. My piddly little smart phone camera could not capture the vastness of this place. These pictures pale in comparison to the reality.
|The view when you walk in.|
|Inventory that is online.|
|Heading from the front towards the back.|
Elliot comes from a family of booksellers. His grandfather was a rag man. He’d go through town pushing his cart calling out, “Rags, rags.” People would throw him their rags and also books. By the time he reach the wealthier part of town, the books became more lucrative than the rags. The grandfather raised three boys all of whom became booksellers. Irving’s bookstore was in Worcester, Barnet’s was in Woonsocket, and Elliot’s father Sam’s was in Providence. Sam opened his bookstore, the Lincoln Book Shoppe, in 1931.
Fast forward to August 1957 when Elliot opened his own bookstore in New Haven. It was on York Street until August 1960 when he moved to a larger space on the busier street of Broadway. Elliot was at this location until August 1968 when he decided to transition his business to mail order only. That, of course, morphed into online sales with the rise of the internet.
Now in his early 80s, Elliot wants to retire and find new homes for the 200, 000+ books in his possession. In the past Powell’s has expressed interested in buying his entire inventory. He wasn’t tempted by their inquiry in the past, but is now thinking that might be an interesting option. In my opinion, they’d be fools not to buy his entire inventory. (I’ve been to Powell’s a couple times, such a great bookstore.)
Back to Tuesday
Elliot gave me a tour of the building–there are three levels, all packed with books. He also has maps, prints, and other paraphernalia. And Wallace Steven’s personal art collection and bed. In addition to the high, wall-to-wall shelving, there are stacks of books everywhere. Some are quite massive. A few smaller ones have been knocked over by squirrels that got in some time ago and have since been kicked out.
After the tour Elliot gave me his cellphone number and told me to call when I was finished browsing. He walked over to his house and I walked back to the literature section which contains American and British with some Canadian titles. The books are roughly in alphabetical order by author, but not always. There were just too many shelves for me to go through them book by book as I didn’t want to cut too much into Elliot’s evening. I was, after all, an unexpected visitor and he did eventually have to make dinner.
|What treasures await the right person?|
Even from this quick once-over I found dozens of books I would have liked to buy. I also walked through the film section, women’s history, and noticed a Russian lit section as well. I was there for two or three hours and maybe made it through about five rows and that was with a lot of skimming. You’d need more than a week to go through the whole place. There’s everything from mass market paperbacks to journals to huge oversized hardcovers. The inventory is from Elliot’s shop, estate sales, and Yale University Press runs. Look at the categories on his website and you’ll get an idea of the range of his inventory.
|The literature section begins to the right.|
I went home with four books (which shows great restraint on my part):
1. Mr. Evans: A Cricketo-Dectective Story by Cyril Alington. Never heard of the author or the book, but it sounds different and interesting. 1922.
2. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A. Conan Doyle. A nice 1892 reading edition.
3. The High Window by Raymond Chandler. A 1945 first printing Tower Books Edition. Love the book jacket.
4. American Stuff: An Anthology of Prose and Verse by Members of the Federal Writers’ Project with Sixteen Prints by The Federal Art Project, Viking Press, 1937.
|The High Window by Raymond Chandler now lives in my library.|
A fifth book that I was interested in turned out to be above my price range: a first US edition Agatha Christie with original dust jacket. Elliot couldn’t find another one listed in the databases with an original dust jacket although there were a few that had facsimile dust jackets.
|First US edition of The Seven Dials Mystery – is this not a gorgeous dust jacket?|
As I mentioned above, just a small fraction of the inventory is online so the bulk of books are not priced. How Elliot priced the books I purchased was by searching an online database and seeing what similar books were selling for–by edition and condition. He gave me great prices based on that. However, this process takes some time, so if you’re lucky enough to enter this book wonderland, make sure you take this into consideration when planning your time. See his website for more information.
A huge thank you to Elliot for letting me in and for sharing some amazing stories about his life in books. I was truly honored by this experience and can’t wait to go back.
|Elliot, bookseller for 58 years.|
*Email address corrected 7/17/15.
OMG I'm insanely jealous. I'm now wondering how long the drive is from Boston and whether I should trek down 😀
It's only 2-2.5 hours and it is a collector's playground.
What an amazing adventure! Lucky you!
Oh Chris. I'm quite emotional about this post. What an unbelievably joyous thing to experience. But I'm not the one that got to experience it. And then there is my worry that the collection might go to a place like Powells. I love Powell's but I so much want to see this collection stay in a barn in the New England countryside. So many fantasies running through my head. I'm thinking of a road trip…maybe he will still be there next summer when we drive up to Maine. You really struck it rich. So envious.
Is there a little voice in your ear saying you can alter your route to Michigan with Simon this fall?
I'm still pinching myself, Sandie!