18 February 2007

Pageant Prints Lives!—And So Does the Attitude


When the Pageant book and print shop closed its doors on W. Houston Street in 1999, I pretty much gave it up for dead. The book store, which was founded on Fourth Avenue's Bookseller Row in 1946 by Sidney B. Solomon and Henry Chafetz, had worked through a number of locations, including a building with robin's-egg-blue window panes on E. 9th Street. It was while there that it was used as a backdrop for Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." The interior on E. 9th was classic tumbledown, untended and dusty with a mangy cat running around. The second floor felt like somebody's cluttered attic. Very charming. Very eccentric.

The W. Houston place wasn't nearly as nice and much smaller. By then the book collection was nominal; the focus was old prints. But Pageant lasted only a few years there.

Well, I had a happy surprise the other day when I was passing down E. 4th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue. A small storefront with some prints displayed on the sidewalk bore a sign reading "Pageant," the letters painted a familiar shade of blue. Could it be? It was. After five years selling over the internet, the shop—now exclusively prints, no books—had reopened. I was delighted to see it again and skipped right in, even though I was late for an appointment.

Almost immediately upon entering, however, I remembered why I had never frequented Pageant as much as other used books stores. I addressed the woman with long, dark red, curly hair behind the counter—recognizable as the owner from the old days. Was this the same Pageant? She waited, unsmiling, for me to stumble through my question, which needn't have been as long and drawn out as it was if she had just nodded her head or something. She eventually grunted a "yes."

"How long have you been here?" I asked.

"I got here about 10:30 today," she answered. Comedienne.

"I mean, when did the store open here?"

"About a year and a half ago." Still no smile.

Trying to remain upbeat, I said, "Well, I'm glad I found you again."

"I didn't know I was lost," she drawled. Uh-huh.

This I remembered. At E. 9th Street, at W. Houston, Pageant always had the surliest, most sarcastic service in the New York book world. And that's saying something, given that, in my experience (and this comes from a died-in-the-wool book store lover) independent Gotham book stores owners rank among the world's most cantankerous misanthropes. There are exceptions, of course. The people at the late lamented Gotham Book Mart were always as sunny as the day is long. The ladies at Three Lives bookstore are always civil, if a bit cool. And a Skyline Books clerk will provide help if it's asked for. But at Pageant, it was always service with a sneer.

I wish them luck with the new space. Someone who keeps trying to sustain a worthy business deserves a chance. But maybe they also might wanna try a little tenderness.

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