Fred Bass, co-owner of the massive New York second-hand bookstore, affectionately known as The Strand, died of heart failure yesterday (January 3) at the age of 89.
Bass transformed his father’s modest store into a four-story bookstore instantly recognizable to New Yorkers and tourists today: the Broadway store, with its red and white awning on $ 1 book carts. bordering the exterior facing south.
Bass owned and ran the store with his daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, for thirty years, a big promotion since sweeping floors as a teenager and renting books by foot in her thirties. What the two have achieved as a joint force is unique in the bookstore world.
There are two basic things a good bookstore can provide: the delicious maze of man-made shelves, or the satisfaction of efficiently getting the book you’re looking for. Amazon has done its part by shutting down the businesses of bookstore chains that have excelled in the latter, like Borders and Barnes & Noble. The now Everything Store once only sold books, and one of the ways to do that successfully is to offer deep discounts. The Strand, while nowhere near as ubiquitous as Amazon.com, has been able to boast dizzying volume while still maintaining a much-loved shopping experience.
Bass’s father, Ben Bass, opened his store on Fourth Avenue, part of a strip of bookstores called “Book Row,” for $ 600 in 1927, about $ 8,400 today. During the Depression, he was so broke from his second-hand book business that he placed his son and daughter in foster care in the East Village, according to the New York Times. Her son, Fred, went to work for his father, tidying up and buying books. Eventually, he took over the store with a voracious appetite for buying books and enlarged it.
The sheer volume of the Strand, a book warehouse with an independent store feel, helped it stand out. By 1957, the other 47 Book Row stores had closed, while the Strand had moved to a larger location on Broadway. In 1997, Bass bought the building. Its slogan, “eight miles of pounds,” is now officially 18, although it may be closer to 23. Bass has also added three pop-up locations around Manhattan.
“He had this thing of trying to buy whatever he could,” Bass says in a video for Strand of his father’s buying strategies. âAt first I thought he was crazy: why are we buying extra books when we haven’t sold everything? We just kept buying and buying. It was the fact that you can’t sell a book that you don’t have. You must have the book in stock.
What Amazon did well – sell you its vast inventory for a really low price – Bass did it first. And with tote bags.
Almost all of the books in the store are on sale at a discount, ranging from a few dollars on a new title to under $ 1 for a classic or a book that has run its course. In an interview with C-SPAN in 1996, Bass said of review book shelves: âThere are probably more books here at half the price than most newer bookstores. Customers are drawn to the outdoor bargain display and stay for the cheeky signage and locally designed merch. Bass says he enhanced his father’s pure passion for the books he sold by focusing on book displays and improving relationships with customers. Today, grabbing one of Strand’s more than 100 bag designs is a proud demonstration of the reader’s identity.
âThe Bass family are very keen to keep up with the times,â says Leigh Altshuler, store’s director of marketing and communications. âThis is not what one might think of a 90-year-old family business, very steeped in its habits. They are ready to try new things.