The Strand

Here’s How Fred Bass Made the Strand Bookstore So Special

Fred Bass: American businessman, lover of literature, and legacy owner of one of the country’s most treasured independent bookstores, The Strand, sadly passed away on January 3rd at the age of eighty-nine. He was born on June 28th, 1928 and grew up in the East Village where he lived with his father, Benjamin Bass, a Lithuanian immigrant and his mother, Shirley Vogel, an immigrant from Poland. Having worked in The Strand from the age of thirteen, Fred Bass took over his father’s business officially as manager in 1956. His daughter Nancy also works there, and will continue to manage the store as she has been since her father’s retirement three years ago. Below is a picture of her with her father, sorting out a batch of books together in 2007. 

 

Bass and Nancy

Image Via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

 

Of working alongside her father, Nancy says 

He never had an office and loved when customers told him they enjoyed “getting lost in the stacks”. He spent all of his time behind his buying desk, eager to see what treasures would come across it. He felt working with books was the best job in the world. 

 

Mr. Bass enrolled in Brooklyn College, earning a degree in English in 1949 however soon after, in 1950, he was drafted to the army and posted to West Germany. He met his wife Patricia Miller while serving stateside in New Jersey, after which time he worked at the bookstore for over seventy years.

 

The Strand has become a literary Mecca in New York City boasting eighten miles of new, used and rare books, some 2.5 million of them on site and another quarter of a million in a holding warehouse in Brooklyn. The store itself employs 240 people, each of whom must fill out Bass’s special employment application which requires them to match ten authors with ten book titles, and maneuver one trick question, requiring them to have extensive book knowledge in order to work there.

 

The Strand Bookstore

Image Via TopherMacDonald.com

Bass called his occupation “a lotta fun”, saying it was “like a treasure hunt. I wouldn’t be in any other business.” The success of the independent bookstore is largely due to the sheer number of books bought over the years by both Fred Bass and his father Benjamin. “We just kept buying and buying. It was a fact — you can’t sell a book you don’t have,” said Bass. With the decline of bookstores, many being unable to survive in New York City, and with book laden customers selling off entire libraries, The Strand, resting on the corner of Broadway and 12th street has never been anything less then fully equipped for any type of reader. “It’s a disease,” Bass told New York magazine in 1977.

I get an attack, something like a panic, of book-buying. I simply must keep fresh used books flowing over my shelves. And every day the clerks weed out the unsalable stuff from the shelves and bins and we throw it out. Tons of dead books go out nightly. And bought ’em. But I just have to make room for fresh stock to keep the shelves lively.

 

Fred and his Father

Below is a picture of Fred and his father, Benjamin | Image Via TheStrand.com

 

 

We at Bookstr decided to let our readers in on the all-time favorite books of the late Fred Bass, as seen on The Strand’s website:

 

1. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

 

2. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

 

3. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

 

4. The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankel

 

5. Letters to Véra by Vladimir Nabokov

 

6. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

 

7. Truman by David McCullough

 

8. Midnight Angels by Lorenzo Carcaterra

 

9. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed By Jared Diamond

 

Fred Bass

Image Via NYT.com

 

Featured Image Via TopherMacDonald.com