Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Good-Bye To John Scioli And His Very Unique Community Book Store On Court Street


Well, the moment has finally arrived. After 30 years on Court Street in Cobble Hill, John Scioli is separating himself from the thousands and thousands of books that he has been selling (or perhaps hoarding is a better word) in his Community Book Shop.

Sciolo sold his building at 212 Court Street for a reported $5.5 million a while back, but had until now to vacate the place. Today, a huge truck was parked in front of his store. Workers were bringing out crate after care of books to load into it. Along side the building on Warren Street, a dumpster was already mostly filled with books.

Some neighborhood book lovers had actually climbed on top of the pile, looking at the books.

For as long as I can remember, the Community Book Shop was always crammed full of books and shopping there was not an easy feat, as one had to watch where one stepped. However, Sciolo knew exactly where each title could be found in what to others looked like total chaos. By some estimates, he stocked an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 books in his retail space.

It was here that my son was able to locate a biography of Golda Meir, which he needed for a school school report. No one, from Amazon to Barnes and Nobles, to Strand had a copy of it in stock. As a last resort, I told my son to call Sciolo at his store. After putting my son on hold for five minutes, Sciolo affirmed that he had a copy. When my son arrived at the store a little later, the book was waiting for him on the counter.

It was very strange to see all the books being taken out of the store today.

Farewell, John! You and your many books will be missed.

I just received a very thoughtful email from local resident Marcia Savin, who wanted other readers to know some of the circumstances that certainly added to the Community Book Store's long decline.

She writes:
What’s missing from the dialogue about John Scioli is he clearly suffered an emotional decline after his second wife died a few years ago. (His first wife ran Community Books in Park Slope for many years. They had owned it together in the Heights and after the divorce, each opened a new store.)

So, on top of the loss of his second wife, John was also hit hard when his dog died. But he once was a vibrant guy and a big help to me in a pinch. I write children’s books: years ago, when I was doing author’s visits at local schools, I received a call the night before a visit from the Assistant Principal in a panic because the books she had ordered hadn’t arrived. The arrangement was that children would bring their money in advance for their copy of my book which I would then autograph. The schools were able to get the books at a big discount from the publisher so for a few dollars, for many of those children, it was the first time they would own an autographed copy of a book and for some, it was even the first time they would own a book.

I called John for help and that night, he went to the distributor and got our copies. He opened his store at 6am for us so the Assistant Principal could pick them up before school. My visit could be a success because of his help. Other times when I needed copies of my book, John always sold them to me at a discount. The publisher would too, but there was always a long wait and John actually gave me a better discount than my publisher!

An article in the Times said his late wife had been a big help in organizing his books and the store. While she was alive, it was always unbelievably crowded with piles of books but one could at least walk the aisles without fearing books tumbling onto one’s head and the shelves used to be organized by subject with fiction arranged alphabetically.

So, let’s hold back on the criticism toward John and the store. He changed; he suffered an emotional decline and the books just kept accumulating until there was no control or organization. I’m glad he can walk away with a big profit but the community has lost what was once a great used book store and a seller who knew books.

Thank you for adding to the conversation, Marcia. And thank you for reminding us that John's bookstore was a wonderful resource for the community for decades.


Donald Ivanoff said...

Despite the fact that the end was near, he never really lowered his prices or made any real attempt to sell the books to those who might have wanted them. About three weeks ago, my wife and I waded into the "collection" to look for interesting things for summer reading. We picked about a dozen books. When we asked him "how much" he inspected each one and said "$68." I said "You've gotta be kidding me." Not knowing what the next move should be, I offered him $20... He said no. We finally agreed on $40 which was probably far too much. If he had put the whole lot on sale at a buck a book, he probably would have moved a significant number of them.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how the first floor didn't collapse into the basement under the weight of all those books!

Anonymous said...

I remember him and his dog. I have bought many books from him but after the dog died there was a decline. I also couldn't stand the cigarette smoke. If he had played his cards right he could have sold a majority of the books at discount or free or donated them. Films need books all the time. People need books. All these dumped make me so so sick. In any event I hope he quits smoking and enjoys the money he made off the building. Perhaps a nail salon will move into the space. Sad about this.

Ignatius J. Reilly said...

Indeed. Such a splendid neighborhood resource and a prime spot for a late afternoon nap!

You see, occasionally, while browsing the aisles, and my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I'd make my way into one of the corners to enjoy a macaroon or two, and a sip from my bottle of Dr. Nuts, and inevitably, I'd float away for a brief while, lost in the splendour of sleep. It never seemed to bother John, and I'm not even sure he was aware of my presence.

Anonymous said...

I don't care what you say, it's a disgrace to be throwing away a dumpster full of books. There's plenty of organizations that would've gladly picked up boxes and boxes of free books. Shame on him.

Dr. Ivan Steinoff said...

This is for Donald Ivanoff- We would love it if you were to answer these questions so my psychological class can discuss the solipsist views that you have:

1- Do you often go into stores and tell them what you *want* to pay and not what the seller thinks it worth?
2- Do you work at a place or offer a service that the customer/client comes in and tells you they want to pay less?
3- If so-what is your typical response?

Thank you for your time.
Dr. Ivan Steinoff PhD Human Sciences UK

Anonymous said...

The store is still packed as of today. He has it open at night and people were inside. The dumpster is awful. What a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

I'm sad to see judgemental comments about this bookstore owner. Many of my books were purchased there over the years and he was always knowledgeable and helpful. Yes, he smoked, yes the place was crowded, but it was his to run however he saw fit, and if you did not like it you could easily go and shop elsewhere. It's easy to criticize and say negative things, but none of us are walking in his shoes. I, for one, will miss this store and owner when I walk by on Court street and dread what will replace the store. Another expensive place probably...