Walking into the Amitin Book Shop for the first time is akin to walking into some nondescript house, only to find every room stacked floor to ceiling with someone's mindlessly vast collection of baseball cards or Elvis memorabilia. The feeling is one of shock, the dawning possibility that you have entered the lair of a madman and, in fact, that danger may lurk within.
Here, the collection is books, and the "house" is a enormous shop that takes up two warehouse-sized levels. The estimated 800,000 books line the ceiling-high shelves, which seem to stretch on forever. Many of the volumes are organized by subject, but others sit moldering in jumbles of boxes at the ends of the aisles. If you do manage to locate a grouping of books that interests you, you're likely to find a sign that says something along the lines of "SPORTS: 1 of 4 sections." It's up to you to seek out and search through the other three sections, wherever those might be.
The place is so damned vast and so crammed with a miscellany of books and ephemera that the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark comes to mind: an endlessly huge warehouse overflowing with an embarrassment of dust-coated, forgotten stuff.
Amitin's is clearly a relic of the past, and owner Lawrence Amitin is dealing with what may prove to be the setting of the sun on his bibliophile's playland. The building's owner has asked him to vacate, and though the store has survived more than 60 years in various downtown locations, the business' gigantic inventory really has no place to go. "It's almost like a death sentence when you kick out a business this large," says Amitin. "There are no options -- there aren't other rents that are affordable, and the move would be too costly."
For some time now, Amitin has been moaning to all who will listen that the closing of his store is no less than a "cultural tragedy," and he intends to share his political views at a "Cultural Appreciation Day" featuring performing musicians, poets and writers and a few speeches from the owner, too.
The event will feature singer/songwriters such as Ellina Graypel, Kendra Mahr, Ben Somers and Chuck Reinhardt; R&B act Two Kings and a Queen; folk musician Rick Uhlman of the band Fiddlesticks; and Amitin employee Wroy on his guitar with singer Stephanie "Nurse" Payne. The spoken-word types include novelist Richard Krause.
First-time visitors will find books sitting on shelves so high they will get neck cramps trying to read the titles; boxes of mildewed magazines; great mounds of books in boxes blocking their path; and a dark, chaotic basement area ("The boogeyman's down there," jokes Amitin) that the owner promises to light better for the arts day.
"The store has a lot of dark corners where you can find hidden treasures, and there's gold everywhere," says Amitin. "If you want to dig and take the time, you can find it."