This year will be notable for many things. One that most people may not notice is the 50th anniversary of a much-loved independent bookstore that once nurtured some of Georgia’s most famous writers.
Founded in 1971 and operated until 1996 in a house on Midtown’s Juniper Street, the Old New York Book Shop became famous for its legendary invitation-only book parties and its most famous customer and the shop owner’s best friend, Pat Conroy, author of “The Great Santini,” “The Prince of Tides” and “The Water Is Wide,” all of which became movies, with the first two earning multiple Oscar nominations.
The book parties were Conroy’s idea to help bring more business into the struggling little shop that sold used and rare books at prices as low as 25 cents. Whenever an Atlanta writer got published, the shop would host a book-signing-and-schmoozing party to celebrate. Book parties were the only time the shop sold new books.
During the 1970s and 80s, almost every serious Atlanta-based writer attended them, including not just Conroy but also Terry Kay, James Dickey and Anne Rivers Siddons, all of whom became lifelong friends and literary legends almost as big as Pat.
No longer in the house on Juniper Street, the Old New York Book Shop still exists, still operated by its founder Cliff Graubart and his wife Cynthia Graubart — but in their house in Sandy Springs.
Though the parties are over and most of the writers they celebrated have passed away, its original mission of buying and selling rare and out-of-print books remains.
Luckily, most Americans still read real books. According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, despite the popularity of e-books and audio books, 65% of U.S. adults said they had read a print book in the previous year. Some spend their lives not just reading books but collecting them, amassing personal collections of hundreds of books.
So, what happens to these beloved collections when their owner passes away and leaves them to their heirs? Who has room for them? Yet, who would even think of throwing them in the trash? If a parent or dear relative dies and leaves their beloved book collection to you, what do you do?
You can contact the Old New York Book Shop. If your collection sounds interesting, Cliff will make a personal visit to your home to see it.
“I go look and usually buy some or all of the books,” said Cliff, who maintains an inventory of 10,000 individual books in his basement.
Most of the collections are from estates. Even if he buys an entire collection, he usually sells the books individually to different buyers looking for a particular book that may not necessarily be rare but merely hard to find.
“I get orders from everywhere, including Amazon,” he said.
He also gets calls from customers from the old days looking to sell.
“I get calls all the time, asking, ‘Is this the same shop that was on Juniper Street?’” he said.
Many of the callers give their name, as if hoping he’ll remember them. Sometimes he remembers. Often, they’re adult children living far away who have inherited book collections from their parents in Atlanta.
He’ll consider anything that sounds interesting, even if it’s not his specialty of literary fiction. He remembers one call from a man in Alabama whose brother-in-law, a founder of a major Midwest science fiction convention, had died and left him his books.
“He was connected to the great sci-fi writers of the 1950s and had a very extensive collection. It wasn’t my genre, but I bought the entire library,” Cliff said. “It came to a lot of money.”
But in the end, it’s not just about the money.
“Cliff still gets great joy from going on house calls and meeting people who want their books to live on in some way,” said Cynthia. “He hears the story of their collection and gets their books into the hands of people who really want them.”
Cliff misses the old days but says these days are “bittersweet.”
“It’s really quite lovely,” said Cynthia. “Families feel burdened by suddenly inheriting books from a loved one. He gives the books a new life.”
Both the Graubarts are published authors. Cliff has published a book of short stories titled “The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt” and is working on a memoir about Conroy. Cynthia has published 12 cookbooks, including co-authoring “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” with Nathalie Dupree. Her two newest books are being released this spring.
For information, go to oldnewyorkbookshop.com and cynthiagraubart.com.