Eighty-two years after Harry Schwartz and his partner opened Casanova Books in the back of a Downer Avenue hair salon, Schwartz's shops are closing. It is truly the end of an era.
Although there are businesses as old and considerably older still in Milwaukee, few have had the kind of runs Schwartz did. And that's because Harry and, later, his son David, never said never.
When Harry wanted to publish a book by Faulkner, he sat in a Third Ward Italian restaurant and scrawled a request to the author on a now-fabled "wine-soaked napkin." The result was "Salmagundi," one of the rarest of Faulkner books.
When the book banners came marching into Milwaukee, Harry fought them tooth and nail and gained both national notoriety and national acclaim for snubbing them all and selling Henry Miller's novels.
When indies around the country began falling like flies in the face of massive competition from major chains and later, Amazon, David Schwartz stepped things up and managed to thrive in the same environment that was snuffing out his comrades in other cities.
While those shops had a lot of books and sacks of money and influence to wield in their retail war, ADS, as some of us knew him - I worked at Schwartz (first in a shop and then, for most of the time, in the main office) from the late 1980s until I left to work at OnMilwaukee.com in 2000 - devised the Schwartz Gives Back program, which magnified and heightened Schwartz's commitment to the Milwaukee-area community.
But, sadly, when David passed away a few years ago, as his wife Carol Grossmeyer has said -- and I paraphrase -- he left a wounded business. Through no fault of his own. He couldn't have worked more tirelesslessly, more passionately and more fiercely to maintain a toe-hold for independent bookselling in Milwaukee.
But he was one man -- albeit one man with a solid team behind him -- and when he was gone, all that was left was the team. And as seasoned and dedicated as that team was, David was the spark, the personality, the face of bookselling in Milwaukee.
And the tidal wave had continued to wash over indie bookselling. It would take more than a few dozen hard-working booksellers and office staffers to hold back the tsunami.
So, while I was touched and shocked to hear the news that Schwartz will be gone as March wanes, I wasn't all that surprised. Not only does it mean the loss of an institution and some great bookshops, it likely means the loss of many author visits to Milwaukee, since Schwartz is just about the only place hosting them these days.
If there is any good news to arise from the news that Schwartz Bookshops is closing in Milwaukee, it is that Schwartz's devoted and talented and knowledgeable sidekick Daniel Goldin -- who arrived here from Queens, N.Y. to work as head buyer and has stayed ever since -- will keep the Downer Avenue shop open under a new name. The Boswell Book Company (named for the figure in the Schwartz logo).
Lanora Hurley, another Schwartz employee, will buy the Mequon location and continue to operate is as a bookshop, too. That's great news for Schwartz fans on the North Shore.
Daniel -- who I'm proud to say is my friend -- is the only other person I know whose passion for books and for bookselling nears that of David's. And I know a whole lot of people who love books.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.