Michael Seidenberg, Who Ran a (Sort of) Secret Bookstore, Dies at 64

Michael Seidenberg, Who Ran a (Sort of) Secret Bookstore, Dies at 64

The speakeasy bookstore (as news articles often called it) on East 84th Street was a place that, it was commonly said, you could go to for the first time only in the company of a regular. But the writer David Burr Gerrard, in a tribute to Mr. Seidenberg posted on lithub.com last week, said that wasn’t really true.

“Michael was, as he liked to say with his trademark this-should-be-obvious-but-nobody-thinks-of-it grin, ‘in the phone book,’ ” he wrote, “and would happily give his address to any stranger who called him.”

Mr. Gerrard, who was a frequent visitor, described the scene.

“Pulpy 1950s thrillers stood close to the front, as though to remind you not to get too self-serious in a place that also offered esoteric experimental literature that had been out of print for decades, books you never heard of until Michael put them in your hands and you wondered how you had ever lived without them,” he wrote. “The apartment was overstuffed, with books apparently strewn everywhere, and yet somehow their arrangement was so aesthetically gorgeous that, on my first visit and my fiftieth, I could hardly believe it was real.”

Mr. Seidenberg’s first marriage, to Thelma Woozley, ended in divorce. He and Ms. Roe had been together since 1980.

Mr. Seidenberg often described himself as a good book collector but a lousy bookseller. Money, though, did not seem to be all that important to him, perhaps in part because the place on 84th Street was rent-controlled. The Guardian, in its 2015 article, also mentioned a small inheritance that enabled him to buy the house upstate. He told Gothamist in 2015: “I luckily have enough money that I only need to make very little. So if I have a customer that picks up a $20 book and I know he’s a writer, the book is going to be $10.”

And so at least until things got too crazy amid the publicity over the eviction, he didn’t mind that a lot of his regular visitors weren’t really customers, but came by only to hang out; one young woman, he told Gothamist, stopped by once a month just to smoke pot.

“I love that,” he said. “To me, it’s a compliment above and beyond what I do with the books that I’ve created a zone where people can be themselves.”

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