by Tim Gilmore, 9/14/2015
cont’d from Brooklyn: Chamblin Bookmine, Part 4
Just inside the door at 2050 Forest Street, we walk into a two-story space, wide open from top to bottom, that Ron’s slowly converting into apartments. In fact, one of his employees used to live in the more fully completed apartment toward the back. The floor’s unfinished concrete and wooden stairs ascend against the wall to a banistered loft bedroom. There’s an old couch, a kitchen, a functioning bathroom.
But we’re here to see the three rooms of warehouse that total 16,000 square feet of storage, the 4,000 square foot shed out back, and the four tractor trailers beside the shed, each space packed with books.
The first room contains aisles much like the other retail locations, but the books that come from these Genealogy or Horror Fiction shelves sell exclusively online through sites like AbeBooks and Alibris. Against the walls, shelves climb 15 feet to the ceiling, and dusty old barrister’s bookcases hold oversize art books. I walk two or three aisles and find a section of graphic-novel art-criticism.
The second room looks like the first, but spilling into the aisles and stacked high with boxes of books. The third room explodes into total chaos. Piles of boxes lean crookedly, topped by stacks of maps and posters. Only the floor-to-ceiling shelves on the walls bear any resemblance to order.
Gary works the Brooklyn warehouse by himself, checking computer orders and wandering the aisles to find and package rare horror novels, architectural history books, or complete multi-volume series of Batman art or Botticelli.
I follow Ron back through the first section, into back corridors that wind past small rooms to a smaller door. When he pushes it open, we face the big tin warehouse out back and the four tractor trailers sitting on concrete blocks in the thick green humid grass.
This 4,000 square foot shed, Ron says, is a lot like the greenhouse he’s filled with books beside the Roosevelt Boulevard store, “so you can see the overwhelming problem of all this growth?”
“It’s exponential, isn’t it?” I ask.
We walk back into the main warehouse, and Ron says, in lieu of answering the question, “We’re going to have to keep expanding somehow. I’ll have to keep figuring out how to keep up with it.”
“Hey, Ron,” I say, “What would happen if you dropped a personal moratorium on buying books? What would happen to you psychologically? Would your head explode or what?”
He leans in toward me as we walk through dimly lit halls, then aisles of packed shelves reaching far above our heads, and says softly but intensely, “The fact that I’ve bought everything from every opportunity that came my way for decades, that’s what’s killed my competition. It’s a simple principle. I buy, so they can’t buy.”
He laughs quietly. “The way to kill your competition is to purchase every single thing, so there’s nothing left for anyone else.”