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The Death of Johnson's Bookstore

“Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

When I was very young, six, maybe seven, as a special treat, my Nana would take me “down street” on the city bus. It was a special day, that didn’t happen very often, so when I saw her loading up her big Nana bag with butterscotch candies and tissues, I knew we were going on an adventure. It was a magical day, that would include tuna melts at Friendly’s, and shopping at Steiger’s Department Store. The highlight, of course, was a trip to Johnson’s Bookstore. In the mid 1970’s when Nana and I would visit, it was the only bookstore in the City, and one that carried items with names I could not pronounce, but dreamed of owning, like the esteemed calligraphy set that my sister bought, and never let me use.

I remember the rows of books, old and new, and the smell of old paper that would always make my nostrils tingle with the scent of by gone days. Johnson’s carried new books, old books, stationary, cameras, journals – you name it! Most stacks were taller than Nana and I combined, but still we reached, and stretched for the books we wanted that always seemed to be on the top shelf. There were so many shelves, and tables stacked with books, it was easy to get lost daydreaming for hours.

When I was older, I attended Classical High School, just up the hill from Johnson’s, and it was at that time that my true love affair with them began. I didn’t know it then, but it was a place I would never forget.

In the fall I would breathe in deep the smell of autumn in the Pioneer Valley, and smile as I opened the heavy wooden door, to be instantly greeted by the same woman that greeted me a decade earlier. In the winter, I would trudge down State Street in the deep snow to get to Johnson’s, just to see Santa sitting in green velvet chair with dozens of children waiting to see him. As I thumbed through such classics as Moby Dick, and The Old Man and the Sea, I imagined the ghosts of Dr. Seuss and Robert Frost standing by, as they once did, many years earlier. There was magic in the knowledge that Theodore Geisel walked my same path, and followed the same road to Johnson’s that I did daily.

It was there, somewhere deep in the stacks, that I realized I wanted to write. I wanted to write one of those books. The ones that were bound in leather, that seemed to outlive everyone, reader and writer alike.

Standing there surrounded by books, and writing accessories, my dream of getting a book published was born. I could see myself sitting there signing my books, and began working towards that goal immediately.

Sadly, Johnson’s Bookstore would never carry my book. In fact, just three years after the birth of Amazon, after 113 years in business, they closed their doors forever. At the time, I was living in West Palm Beach, but remember the phone call from my mother as she announced the closing as she would a death.

“They’re gone.” she would say in a hushed voice, as she had many times before when she called to tell me “so and so” died. I never knew the “so and so’s” or not well, but this call was different. I did know them, all of them, each cashier and many of the regulars. They held a piece of my childhood carefully, knowing the gift they had, and knowing the gift they had given us all. Just like that, it was gone.

Years later I would get another phone call from my mother.

“Amazon killed them.”

And so, they did.