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Personal Reminiscence: Coliseum Books

I just discovered today that one of my favorite New York City bookstores, Coliseum Books, will very likely close its doors before the end of the year. A letter in today's New York Times referred me back to the article Coliseum Books to Close Permanently by Year's End, from October 3, 2006. The article quotes the founder and co-owner, George S. Leibson, saying that he thinks the store will simply disappear.

If this is true, I'm saddened by the news. When I was a teenager growing up in New York City, Coliseum Books was one of the few stores that kept a large collection of esoteric books. In particular, they had huge sections devoted to science, mathematics, puzzles, and games. I always managed to find books there that I knew I would not find in either the Waldenbooks or Barnes & Noble in my home neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. A lot of my mathematical recreational reading, such as books by Martin Gardner, came from that store. I also picked up history books, plays, even science fiction novels. I remember browsing their large, unfinished wooden shelves, always eager to see what surprise would turn up next. (This link will take you to a picture of the store's interior, which still has those same shelves. I would have copied the picture here, but I presume it's under copyright and I wish to respect that.)

Coliseum Books used to stand in Columbus Circle, a short walk from the Coliseum, which is where I presume they got the name. According to the article, they opened the place at 57th Street and Broadway in 1974, where they stood until 2002. Their location was extremely out of the way for me, but I made a point of visiting whenever I could. (Their location was near Cami Hall, where the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Society meets, which gave me a good excuse.) Once I left New York City for Boston, I generally didn't make it back there for obvious reasons.

I remember being concerned when they closed in 2002 due to rent issues, but I was delighted when they reopened in June of 2003, at 11 West 42nd Street. Ever since then, when Nomi and I took a trip to New York, we made a point of visiting the new Coliseum Books and buying some books there. I remember buying a whole stack of hardcovers about New York City history, and having them shipped home to Brookline. That was shortly after they reopened, and we had a nice conversation with a gentleman working behind the counter, who seemed to be more of an owner than just a sales associate. I'm now wondering if it was Mr. Leibson himself. I told him all about my love of the store, and even back in 2003 this fellow expressed the same concern that Mr. Leibson noted in the Times article. Loyal customers from the Upper West Side simply don't bother going to the store anymore. It's too much of a shlep for them, they say.

To me, this is absurd, as Coliseum Books was always a "destination location" for me, like The Strand Book Store on 12th Street and Broadway, or the Forbidden Planet science fiction and fantasy specialty store that once thrived on 59th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. But things change, and I guess a store like Coliseum Books may simply not work for today's market.

The writers, scientists, and poets of the future will have to go to some other bookstore for their dreams. I wish them luck.

Copyright © Michael Burstein

Comments

Coliseum had a going out of business sale right before I left NYC after college.
I'm assuming that was in 2002?
Late '01, early '02, yeah.
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