You have to understand, when I was growing up there were no bookstores, new or used, in my hometown. There still aren't, but that's another story. Back then, the closest bookstore was Thompson's, in downtown
, which was fifteen miles away from my house. (I measured it once I was old enough to drive.) Fort Worth
But that didn't mean there were no books for me to buy. A couple of blocks down the side street where I lived and across the highway next to the hospital was Lester's Pharmacy, which had spinner racks for comics and paperbacks and a small selection of magazines. I could walk there easily, and I did, probably hundreds of times. There were four lanes of divided highway and four lanes of service road between me and those books, but you don't think I let that stop me, do you? (To be fair, there was a lot less traffic back then. The highway's been totally rebuilt since then, and I'd hate to have to cross it on foot these days, although I think it could be done. But there's no reason, because . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
My family had been friends with the family that owned Lester's for years and we got all our prescriptions filled there, so I was well acquainted with the place. Once I started buying my comics there, I became a very familiar face to the employees, showing up like clockwork about ten minutes after four o'clock in the afternoon every Thursday during the school year (the school bus dropped me off about four, and I would walk home, drop my books, and head for Lester's), or about ten o'clock in the morning during the summer. Thursday, you see, was the day the new comics came in. A year or so later the delivery day changed to Tuesday and stayed that way for many years afterward. During the summer I became a sort of volunteer employee (or "pest"), unloading the new comics from the boxes, counting and sorting them, pulling out the ones I wanted (of course), and getting them ready to go on the spinner rack. Did I enjoy getting first crack at the new comics each week? You bet I did.
But comics weren't the only thing I bought at Lester's. That's where I picked up most of the issues of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine, published by Leo Margulies (whose widow, Cylvia Kleinman, was still the publisher of MSMM when I started selling there). Lester's was where I first encountered the
black-and-white horror magazines, CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA. I bought my first John D. MacDonald novel, DARKER THAN AMBER, off the spinner rack at Lester's, as well as my first Louis L'Amour, THE SACKETT BRAND, and Tolkien's THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING in the Ballantine edition. I'm sure I bought plenty of other paperbacks, too, but those are the ones I recall. Most of my memories of Lester's revolve around comics, though. Warren
That was the only store within walking distance that sold books, but all the other drugstores and grocery stores in town had books and comics, too, so I tagged along on my mother's shopping trips as often as I could.
At Trammell's Pak-a-Bag Grocery, I bought a few comics, including DAREDEVIL #1 and AVENGERS #5, but the thing I remember best is picking up one of those Corinth/Regency paperback reprints from the Operator 5 pulp, LEGIONS OF THE DEATH MASTER. I was already a pulp fan by then, and I remember the thrill that went through me when I read the line on the cover: "Bounding out of the Thirties!" Trammell's is also where I bought Roger Simon's first Moses Wine novel, THE BIG FIX, and I was deep in my private eye phase at that time and really loved this updating of the classic genre. I read the other Moses Wine novels later and liked them, but none of them ever captured the magic of that one for me.
Main Street, at least early on, was Tompkins' Pharmacy. I never bought much when it was in that location, but I do recall buying some Dennis the Menace comics there, as well as an issue of the DC war comic OUR FIGHTING FORCES ("featuring Gunner & Sarge . . . and Pooch!"). I may have told this story before, but buying that issue was a real shock for me because the price had gone up to 12 cents from a dime. I could barely afford it.
A few years later, Tompkins' moved up the road to a new shopping center where Buddies' Supermarket and Mott's Five-and-Ten were also located. All three of those became important places to me. Buddies' just had paperbacks, but I bought THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. #1 by Michael Avallone, the first time I encountered Avallone's work. A little more then ten years later, I was married and Livia and I did most of our grocery shopping at Buddies' (I think it had changed to a Winn-Dixie by then and had been remodeled, but it was still in the same place), and that's where I bought THE SINS OF THE FATHERS by Lawrence Block, as I mentioned here not long ago.
Moving down the sidewalk to Mott's, they carried the Whitman juveniles (remember those bright cardboard covers?), and probably the most important one of those I bought was TARZAN OF THE APES. I was already a Burroughs fan, but a new one, having read only A FIGHTING MAN OF MARS, loaned to me by my future brother-in-law, and reading the Tarzan book confirmed that I was going to be a Burroughs fan for life. Mott's also had a small paperback rack that was something of an oddity: they sold only Bantam paperbacks. But that was all right. I was there the first Tuesday of every month (yes, the same truck that delivered books and comics to Lester's delivered them to every other store in town, too) to pick up the new Doc Savage. That's also where I bought a number of Louis L'Amour novels, some of the Bantam Shadow reprints, and assorted mystery novels by authors such as Ross Macdonald, Rex Stout, Michael Collins (Dennis Lynds), and Harold Q. Masur.
A short walk beyond Mott's was the new location of Tompkins' Pharmacy. I probably bought more memorable paperbacks there than anywhere else in my hometown: METEOR MENACE, the first Doc Shadow novel I read. THE SHADOW STRIKES by Maxwell Grant (Dennis Lynds), the first of the new series of Shadow paperbacks published by
. A bunch of the Ballantine Tarzan reprints. Evan Tanner books by Lawrence Block. Larry & Stretch and Nevada Jim Westerns by "Marshall McCoy" (Len Meares, years later my friend-by-correspondence). There were books I remember seeing that I didn't buy and wished later that I had: the Ace editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and those "new" Tarzan novels by "Barton Werper". Tompkins' was an important part of my comics-buying, too. After being introduced to the Marvel Age on Christmas Day 1963, that's where I bought my first big stack of comics in early '64. That's also where I bought most of my issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS. Plus I bought a number of fiction digests there, along with a few of the last remaining men's "sweat mags" such as FOR MEN ONLY (had to be pretty sneaky to get those past my mother, but you could hide an issue in a big stack of comics if you were careful) and the slightly more respectable TRUE and the Sixties incarnation of ARGOSY. Later the drugstore changed hands and became Thrifty Drug, and it was there I bought LONGARM #1 and THE BOOK OF ROBERT E. HOWARD. Belmont
Certainly, I bought books in other places, too, and I could name some of them, but these are the ones that dominated my hometown book-buying from the ages of 10 to 18. Where are they now, you ask? (Actually, you didn't, but I'm going to tell you anyway.)
Lester's Pharmacy remained in business for many years, even after Livia and I were married, but they stopped carrying books and comics. After the pharmacy closed, the building was used for several other things, including the home of a community theater group for a few years. Just within the past year, the building was torn down and replaced with an office building that's part of the hospital complex. It was a sad day when I drove by and saw it gone for the first time.
Trammell's Grocery is now El Paseo Mexican Restaurant (very good Mexican food, by the way) and the main entrance is where the side entrance to the grocery store used to be. Every time I go there I walk past what's now a flowerbed but used to be the "minner tank", where Trammell's sold minnows to use as fish bait. I'm pretty sure I could find the spot in the restaurant where the paperback and comics spinner racks once stood, but I've never bothered to do that.
Across the street, the old two-story white frame building where Tompkins' was originally is still standing. It's the oldest building in downtown, well over 100 years old now. For decades it was where C&W Electronics (one of my dad's competitors in the TV repair business) was located, but it's empty now and is for sale. I sure hope somebody doesn't buy it and tear it down, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens.
A mile or so away, part of the shopping center where I used to go to Buddies', Mott's, and Tompkins' later location is still standing. The end that housed the grocery store (and a laundromat where Livia and I almost got snowed in one day) was torn down several years ago, and a Pizza Hut and a Jack-in-the-Box sit on that end of the parking lot now. The spaces where Mott's and Tompkins' were located are still there and the sidewalk is still the same, but I don't know exactly where the doors were anymore because of remodeling. Both of them may be doctor's offices now.
This brings my Favorite Bookstores series to a close. Sure, I bought books in lots of other places, as I mentioned above, but the ones I've written about are the ones that are most special to me for nostalgic reasons. Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me this far.