Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fred Bass, Strand Bookstore: R.I.P.

Fred Bass, who transformed his father’s small used-book store, the Strand, into a mammoth Manhattan emporium with the slogan “18 Miles of Books,” died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89. The cause was congestive heart failure.

From the NYT:
Mr. Bass was 13 when he began working at the Strand, founded by his father, Benjamin. At the time, it was one of nearly 50 such stores concentrated along Fourth Avenue. Except for two years in the Army, he never left, until retiring in November 2017.

A year after taking over as manager of the store in 1956, he moved it from Fourth Avenue to its present location, on Broadway at 12th Street, where it occupied half the ground floor of what had been a clothing business. He set the Strand on a path of unstoppable expansion, taking over the entire first floor, then, in the 1970s, the top three floors, adding an antiquarian department along the way.
Following his father’s playbook, he pursued a policy of aggressive acquisition.

“At first I used to think he was crazy,” Mr. Bass told the cable news channel NY1 in 2015. “Why are we buying extra books? We haven’t sold all these. But we just kept buying and buying. It was a fact — you can’t sell a book you don’t have.”

The 70,000 books in the Fourth Avenue store swelled, at the Broadway site, to half a million by the mid-1960s and 2.5 million by the 1990s, requiring the purchase of a storage warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. By the time Mr. Bass bought the building for $8.2 million in 1997, the Strand had become the largest used-book store in the world.

Into his late 80s, Mr. Bass stood behind a counter, appraising books and authorizing payment on the spot to book-laden sellers cleaning out their apartments, critics offloading surplus review copies and the down-at-heel looking to collect a few dollars.

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