Gotham Book Mart Auction

The famed Gotham Book Mart (“Wise Men Fish Here”) has sold off books to pay its landlord.

The line outside the Gotham Book Mart in Midtown snaked down the block yesterday morning. Several dozen eager bargain hunters, book dealers, art collectors and former employees of the storied shop waited to bid on a piece of literary history.

They had each put down a $1,000 deposit for the privilege of attending the auction. Books signed by John Updike. Letters from D. H. Lawrence and Anaïs Nin. Andy Warhol’s wig rack. All were up for sale.

In the end though, all the property that was auctioned went to the building’s landlord for $400,000.

The auction was ordered after a judgment last fall evicting the store’s owner, Andreas Brown, over a claim of more than a half-million dollars in rent owed. Now the landlord plans to sell the property.

Yesterday, Mr. Brown, 74, got teary while removing books from the shelves in his office. He left before the auction began.

“It’s a bit like interviewing me at my own funeral,” said Mr. Brown, who has a penchant for quoting Mark Twain.

The back room of the Gotham was where I used to find the little magazines I submitted to and appeared in during the 1970s and early 1980s. The Gotham’s former owner, Frances Steloff, then in her nineties, used to have a desk back there and we chatted sometimes. She knew everyone, it seemed, from Tennessee Williams to Norman Mailer and Mary McCarthy. Miss Steloff is a character in “An Irregular Story” in my book Highly Irregular Stories.

I remember once attending a Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines award ceremony upstairs. We all stood around, listening to the MC, poet and former Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, announce and hand out the awards. When the poet Siv Cedering (Fox) had to go up to collect her award, she gave me — standing next to her — her handbag to hold, but she forgot to retrieve it so I spent fifteen minutes in a crowded room walking around with a woman’s handbag trying to give it back.

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