Trip to the Bookstore

Posted on May 3, 2013 in Prose, Non-Fiction, Writing

With some time to spare between classes yesterday, I stopped at a bookstore that I had once visited many years ago, Schroeder’s Books & Music on Greenfield Avenue in West Allis. I had once found a book here that was very rare and hard to find, which was discarded as “used.” The owner of this shop owns the landmark “Renaissance Books” in downtown Milwaukee, and this store is typically a warehouse of old books, magazines and records. I had no idea what I was in for.

As I entered, I nearly tripped over a woman who was sitting at a the base of a pile of books, the path into the store was very narrow, and random paperback books were strewn about haphazardly at the foot of each book stack which each sat in front of the packed and laden shelves. The woman, I immediately took for being homeless, wore a badly placed dark wig, through which her gray hair jutted in sprouts and fits. She had on at least three shirts and two weathered fanny packs, long skirt(s), and old shoes. I said hello and threaded my way into the store, thinking that things would open up once inside.

As entered, I found that every inch of this store was used to capacity to store not only books and magazines, but VHS tapes, DVD’s, cassettes, boxes of books, garbage, clothing, backpacks and other nick-knacks that had been dropped or knocked off of shelves in the course of careless perusal. The shelves were stacked so closely that you were hard pressed to turn around in any given aisle, and were often nose to nose with the spines of books.

Several rows of shelves were covered in large sheets of plastic, as the roof above had obviously began leaking some years ago, and was never fixed. Ceiling tiles throughout the store had fallen in sections and insulation was dropping down from above. The floor was scattered with dust and litter, and I shudder to think of when last it may have been cleaned.

The window displays which looked inviting from the outside, yet had not changed in the past 10-12 years, lended insight, as they were buried behind several feet of shelves and piles of boxes, stacked beyond reach. The tops of every shelf had rows of books upon which were strewn piles of records that often nearly reached the ceiling tiles.

Some aisles ended suddenly, not with the wall of the store, but with piles of boxes and books and old clothing and quite frankly, garbage that was stacked quite literally to the ceiling. Those corners were typically supplied with a chair and a standing lamp inviting customers to sit among this squalor. Everywhere I looked, the shelves were stacked then over-stacked, then stacked upon, bowing and buckling, in some cases leaning to the point that one would hesitate to pull a single book for fear of being buried in an avalanche of moldering books.

There was no organization to this madness. It was like walking into an episode of “Hoarders.” I’ve never seen so many creative ways to stack so many things in such a small amount of space. As I worked my way through these dead treasures, I found a section where the uppermost strata of rubbish was composed of nothing but old playboy and hustler magazines, porno books from the 60’s, including a half dozen or so that were left on the floor by the last person to use them. I began to wish I had brought some gloves with me.

Driven on by morbid curiosity, I went into another section of the store, and was rewarded with a sour smell, which I immediately thought was like rotten food. After turning into an aisle, I found in fact, raw food sitting on boxes, potatoes, a bag of garlic, an open bag of chips, backpacks with soiled clothing, sitting at the base of the shelves. What astounded me was that during this time, there were a couple of other customers in the store, who were by expression, oblivious to the mess, casually perusing different sections.

When finally I decided I had enough, I made my way to the exit and had to wait while the woman at the entry made change for another customer, there not being enough room in the aisle to pass. I learned that this woman was one of the two proprietors. She asked if I found anything, and I politely explained that I had not. She kept asking if I had seen certain sections of the store, and after saying I had, it took some doing to extricate myself from the store, as the woman persisted in trying to entice me with various themes. When she got to the adult videos and magazines, I gave a curt good day, and briskly walked out.

Not at all what I expected in a trip to the bookstore.