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The man who started it all in 1927, Harry W. Schwartz.

Goldin is just the man to carry on the Schwartz legacy

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.


Talkbacks

repoman | Jan. 20, 2009 at 8:29 a.m. (report)

I try to shop locally but sometimes the price difference is so absurd that it doesn't make sense. My main problem with Atomic was that they quit carrying a lot of the music I liked, so I turned to the internet and on the internet I usually bought stuff directly from the band (so they are getting a bigger cut) or from very small (often run by one person) labels or online stores. I am guessing that a lot of the holier than thou people on her are more than happy to drop 100 bucks at Target every month or shop at the Gap. Families have budgets that they try and live within and faulting them for wanting to save money wherever they can is kind of unfair. So yes, maybe I am guilty of doing some shopping online but I try to do a lot of other shopping locally. I buy a good percentage of my meat at a small butcher in Waukesha (Robert's) I almost exclusively eat at locally owned restaurants and try to avoid chains as much as possible. When I go out for coffee, I will always pick a locally owned establishment over Starbucks or some other chain. I do a lot of shopping at places like Sendiks or Panos Mexican Food stores in Waukesha.

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DustyPockets | Jan. 19, 2009 at 5:45 p.m. (report)

unless people start to see the "value" in shopping locally, we will soon be buying everything direct from china through a website. paying a little more, and buying locally really is cheaper in the long run... you just have to change your perspective. if you see it another way, then don't complain to me when you loose your job b/c businesses are moving away or overseas. the rest of you thank you for supporting milwaukee and other regional businesses.

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jastor | Jan. 19, 2009 at 1:53 p.m. (report)

Okay, so this is the problem with society. We always want something cheaper and better for us. We are in a very selfish world at this point. Sure, you can go to Amazon and shop and get the book cheaper, but I hope you like pot holes in your streets and a dwindling city budget. Not to mention, empty shops and dead economy. At this point, Amazon does not have to pay an sales tax (New York is changing this right now), so the cities lose money. By law, you are suppose to declare and pay tax and what you have bought outside the state on your tax return, few do. So, sure go buy on Amazon, and your local bookstores will go away and then watch their prices go up. In closing, how many author events has Amazon hosted this last year? What organizations and schools to they support in your local neighborhood?

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repoman | Jan. 19, 2009 at 12:45 p.m. (report)

It sucks that Schwartz is closing but when I can get the exact same book on Amazon for up to 30-40 percent less than what Schwartz charges, I am not going to buy it there just to make myself feel good about supporting a local business. Its the same reason so many stopped shopping at Atomic. When you can get the same CD for 4-5 bucks cheaper online (even less on iTunes) people are going to stop buying at independents. I am willing to pay 1-2 bucks more for a book or cd to keep my money local, but when you are talking about saving 5, 10, 20 bucks on each purchase, buying local is like throwing money out the window.

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are-gee | Jan. 19, 2009 at 11:54 a.m. (report)

I look forward to shopping in the new store. It's a great space; can't picture anything but books there; besides, it would take a lot to get the wonderful scent of 'em outta there. Thanks to Schwartz for everything, especially the author events. Sorry you have to close.

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