In the 1980s a buddy of mine who worked for a union in Manhattan got to know some people who knew some people who made it possible for him to purchase a three family tenement in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This deal required some social engineering because Greenpoint was a very tight neighborhood. I used to hang out there when I had business in New York, and I remember it as tidy but bleak, sporting long rows of asbestos clad tenements under gunmetal skies. When I parked my car and walked to by buddy's place, eyes followed me every step of the way. There were no people of color, just gray hair and white flesh. All the shop signs were in Polish. My car was safe but the streets were cold.
The site had recently been purchased and turned into a giant cube of glass by a band of real estate operators - descendants, perhaps, of the guys who hooked my buddy up with his tenement. A small flotilla of them were cruising the floor Sunday afternoon, inspecting the proceedings. They seemed pleased with what they saw. Which is where Marvin's daughter comes in.
Marvin Getman is the new kid on the block among book fair promoters. He's come on the scene like a breath of fresh air, experimenting with new locations, and finding innovative ways to publicize his events. It was his daughter, a Brooklyn resident, who called his attention to the shiny new building going up on the site formerly occupied by Sturdy Store Displays, Inc. Marvin looked into the property – which was still under construction – polled some of the book trade (the general consensus was, "Brooklyn? Hell Yes!") and cobbled together the first ever Greenpoint book fair.
Although, for a while there, it almost wasn't.
Marvin willingly booked the venue, but his show was the first to be held in that space. When I arrived on Thursday afternoon to check things out, only the first aisle of the antiques section had been completed. The book fair section was nothing but half built plywood walls.
Workers on lifts were still wrapping pipes and installing air conditioning. The sweat was beading around Marvin's temples but, walking around with his ever present clip board and toothy smile, he radiated confidence. “You should have seen this place yesterday,” he said.
Sure enough, by some miracle, the work had been completed and the booths set up by the time the show opened Friday night. The real estate guys were probably holding the families of the construction guys hostage, but hey...whatever it takes. Right, Marvin?
Everyone seemed pleased with the venue, particularly those who brought lower end and visual material. Predictably, I saw a lot of bags filled with children's books and popular culture stuff. Richard Mori, whose booth is a cornucopia of this sort of material, reported excellent sales. One fellow told me he sold a $1000 book to a civilian who'd never bought an old book in his life – God only knows what went on in that transaction!
Security for this event was supplied by the Blues Brothers
The book dealers I spoke to said they'd at least consider doing this show again, and a few were ecstatic. However, things weren't quite as rosy on the antique side.
I talked to three dealers who hadn't made expenses, and I suspect there were many more. Some decorator items and paintings left the hall, but most of the action seemed to be on the book side.
Yes, there were glitches. It was a bit of a walk from the subways, and street parking was difficult (although a cab ride from Manhattan was only in the $25 range). Marvin, in a brilliant promotional move, somehow talked the Brooklyn Brewery into providing endless free beer on opening night. The fact that no toilets had yet been installed in the venue dawned on people slowly, then all at once. Happily there were only a few porta-potty traffic jams and the parking lot remained dry.
Speaking of leaks, the roof leaked.
And speaking of the parking lot, it was crammed with exhibitor vehicles on Sunday afternoon, presenting the potential for snarled traffic and frayed tempers at move-out. But from what I heard, things went smoothly and tempers didn't fray until people got on the highways and discovered most of the western world out there with them. I spent a delightful hour approaching the Whitestone Bridge, listening to the lame-ass Jets and watching gangsta cars cut into non-existent holes in the not-moving traffic. Ah, New York... And nobody realized until it was too late that the book dealers' booths were set up with their backsides to the plate glass windows, which presented an unwelcoming view to the street.
Marvin says this is one of the first things he'll fix for the next show... but will there be a next show? No one knows. No one knows how this new venue will fare commercially, or how the operators plan to structure rates in the future. We might have two shows here next year, or we might be priced out. Fewer antique dealers are likely to return, and Marvin isn't sure he can find 140 book dealers to fill this space. So, unlike most book fairs, anchored in time and place, the future of the Brooklyn Book Fair is riddled with uncertainty.
But don't you worry. Marvin's working on it
(Marvin, left, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams)
Most of my colleagues are hoping these problems can be resolved and that there will be more shows in this lively neighborhood. It may have been just the terrific venue that made this show feel like a success, but it was that feeling of success, and the improvisational seat-of-the-pants manner in which it was accomplished, that has inspired more than a little “In Marvin We Trust.”
So thank you, Marvin's daughter. The Brooklyn Expo Center was a good call.
Check out the ABAA's Instagram for photos of a few items found at the fair.