Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Favorite Bookstores #9: Hometown Favorites

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 Fort Worth, which was fifteen miles away from my house. (I measured it once I was old enough to drive.)

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 Warren 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.

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.

Directly across 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 Belmont. 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.

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.


Walker Martin said...

Great series and I'm sorry to see it end but it had to I guess because how many favorite bookstores can there be?

One thing this particular post stresses is just how easy it used to be to buy fiction magazines and paperbacks at the drugstores, Mom and Pop Grocery stories, etc.

No longer. In the Trenton, NJ area in the 1950's and 1960's I could buy the SF and mystery digests all over town. Now, I can't find them anywhere except at a Barnes & Noble several miles out of town, near Princeton.

I hate subscribing because the post office ruins the covers but the distribution is terrible and may soon kill F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, EQMM, AHMM, not to mention the dreaded e-book revolution.

I guess that's one of the reasons I collect so many back issues of the fiction magazines and pulps. I've turned my house into a gigantic newstand of the 1900-1950 period.

Anonymous said...

I must admit I'm always impressed by guys like you and Bill Crider (and Roger Ebert) who seem to remember where you bought every old book you've owned.

I remember the store where my brother and I got our comics on Avenue M in Brooklyn next to the barber shop but I couldn't tell you the name, let alone where I bought all my books.

Jeff M.

Rick said...

Like a favorite bookstore's closing I hate to see this series end. I have certainly enjoyed seeing the experiences through your eyes. Last weekend I learned my favorite second hand paperback sotre is going out of business after 32 years. It was a sad moment. I'll go back one more time this weekend. Then, it's over and they will vacate. E-books were the primary reason I was old. They couldn't compete any longer.

Todd Mason said...

There are many things we could use more of, and favorite bookstores are among them...

Walker, if you have a Wegman's supermarket nearby, as we do down in Cherry Hill, NJ, well...ours gets ANALOG and AHMM irregularly but frequently. Isn't that a sad commentary, that that's notable...and I think the jobbers put those there because you can't find them across the parking lot at the B&N.

I have my own favorite drugstore and supermarket racks and bookstores of youth, and have mentioned them from time to time, but not detailed them nearly as well...

Scott D. Parker said...

Only read this installment (but I'll go back and read the others) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even as a child of the 70s and 80s, I had my favorite bookstores, although, by then, it was B. Dalton and Waldenbooks in the malls. When I scan my boxes of comics, I can remember with crystal clarity where I was and what store I was in when I bought certain issues. There was one World's Finest that had a lead story that ended on a cliffhanger...and it took me years to locate the next issue. Loved that experience, though, of completing a story that took, for me, years to read.

Adventuresfantastic said...

Great series, James. There were two drugstores in the town where I graduated high school that sold comics or digests. I would buy Analog, Asimov's, and comics at Nap Thomas and F&SF at the Eckards across the street. Nap Thomas closed years ago, and the Eckards became CVS and moved about a mile down the road. The pharmacy is about where my bedroom used to be when I was five.

Fred Blosser said...

James, this is much like the map of my misspent youth. The town I lived in was too small to have any outlet for paperbacks and magazines, let alone hardcovers. A local confection store sometimes carried comic books. A couple of miles down the road, in Smithers, a pharmacy and lunch counter had a rack of paperbacks and a rack of comics. A mile or so beyond that, in the larger town of Montgomery, two drug stories, a confection store, and GC Murphys sold paperbacks, magazines, and comics. The nearest city, Charleston, had a real bookstore, plus a combination stationary store/bookstore. I bought my first Burroughs, Howard, Gold Medals, Marvels, and DCs in Montgomery. None of those outlets are around anymore, and the towns themselves are scarcely surviving.

Martin OHearn said...

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
"There were books I remember seeing that I didn't buy and wished later that I had."

Fred Blosser said...

Martin's comment reminds me: My aunt and uncle ran a Goodwill or Salvation Army store in Morgantown for about a year. For some reason, I remember that the only time I was there (this would have been summer '61, when I was 11), I happened to see a huge box of used, thin, yellow-spine paperbacks for sale. At the time, they didn't mean anything to me. Today, I realize they must have been Gold Medal pbs and I wonder what treasures I passed up.

Anonymous said...

It's ben a wonderful, wonderful series, and I too am sorry to see it end. The detail you provide amazes me, like Jeff I have a lousy memory for details like that.

I do remember a few things: When I started buying comics (my older brother already had some, but I wasn't allowed to touch them), it was because on the way home from church each Sunday we stopped at the Alpha Beta market in La Habra, CA and if I had collected , from home, of course, a six-pack of soda bottles I could exchange it for a dime and use that to buy one comic book. In those days it was always a Disney comic, alternating each week through Uncle Scrooge, my favorite, then Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Disney Comics and Stories. Loved Scrooge, loved Gyro Gearloose. Later when I had a little more money I branched out to Casper and Baby Huey.

Finally I grew up enough to buy Red Ryder, Zorro and Lone Ranger, finally got to the DC comics (Batman and Superman) and then Marvel (Fantastic Four and Avengers). Those latter comics were purchased at a local liquor store, and a drug store, off spinner racks. We lived out in the country the whole time, so nothing was within walking distance until I was in about 8th grade and could get to that liquor store between school out and the late school bus.

As for paperbacks, those came off spinner racks too, mostly at the Safeway, and were science fiction, things like Asimov and Heinlein. I bought all the good stuff, like Burroughs, mystery and so on, much later from bookstores. Pickwick, Waldenbooks, Greenbergs, Crown, Bookstar and finally Barnes and Noble and Borders.

Cap'n Bob said...

I didn't buy many comics as a kid, and moved too often to have a special shop, but the one that stands out is the Woolworth's in the Wedgewood section of Norfolk, VA. A friend and I sat on the floor to read a couple of comics one day and the manager grabbed us, dragged us in the back, and told us we were stealing and could go to jail. Scared us, but not so much that we didn't go back and swipe things for the rest of the summer to make up for the insult. Mostly their cheap, 10-cent slingshots, whose rubber bands kept breaking. We'd leave the old one and take a good one. Finally stopped because there were no good ones left.

Walker Martin said...

Great story Cap'n! I've had bookstore clerks yell at me, "this is not a library!"

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

A fascinating series, Mr. Reasoner! I enjoyed reading all your posts about your favourite bookstores. I hope you'll continue to write about the books and comics you picked up and read early on, especially some wonderful memories associated with them. I still have a few THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. comics as well as a bunch of early TARZAN and ZORRO comics, and even LAUREL and HARDY comics. And a couple of early EC horror comics too.

Kent Morgan said...

If this series has come to an end, this was a great way to end it. Like other people, I bought my first comic books at a drugstore. The ones I remember most were Classic Comics. After our family moved from Winnipeg to north of the 53rd parallel in The Pas, Manitoba, shopping choices for magazines and paperbacks basically was limited to a small tobacco shop with a good rack. I bought comic books and later every sport magazine that showed up as well as Argosy, True, Quick and the occasional true detective magazine. I don't remember seeing Manhunt, etc. The store owner used to bring The (St. Louis) Sporting News for me and one other serious baseball fan in a town of 3,500. It usually showed up about three weeks late. The store also sold paperbacks and remember my father buying Erle Satnley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and A.A. Fair, which gave me my first exposure to mystery fiction. There was no bookstore or library in the town.

Scott said...

I bought my first book in a Ben Franklins in my hometown. Having grown up half way between Des Moines Iowa and Twin Cities. I would get up to my father's hometown to visit the local used book store. Sometimes i would drive up to Twin Cities. Later my family moved to Denver where there used to be lots of book store. most have gone out of business as I have not been to a store in 15 years or so.