Get Lit at The Lenox Bookstore
You expect an independent bookstore owner to have an independent spirit, and Matthew Tannenbaum is definitely sui generis. For the past 34 years, he has sold new (and some used) books his way at The Bookstore in Lenox (whose slogan is “Serving the Community Since Last Tuesday.”) “For example, we mix Current Events and Humor on the same shelf—I think they go together!” he says, with an impish laugh. “We don’t carry business books even though they are immensely popular, and I don’t stock horribly violent children’s books, though we now carry more children’s books than ever before.” He stocks plenty of philosophy, poetry, history, plays, literature and high-brow best-sellers. “We’ve sold 30 copies of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom already,” he says.
Now, Tannenbaum is selling wine by the glass too. Last week, his book shop’s new wine bar had a soft opening in the side space known as the Shade Gallery. “I only got the idea last November when I went to visit an old friend in Prague,” he says. “Every night, we would go to the symphony or a jazz club, and afterwards we would go to the same cafe. I loved going to this cafe, and I thought this is what I should have at home. It’s not separate from the bookstore—it’s an extension of the bookstore.” His friend Jim Youngerman built the bar and counter by the window. “It was a collaboration between us—a true creative endeavor.”
Tannenbaum considers being a bookseller a calling, and the wine bar is an attempt to bring in extra revenue while maintaining his store’s integrity in the digital age. “I am going to sit here and sell books whether anybody buys books or not. That’s who I am,” he says with equanimity. He apprenticed in the early 1970s at the eccentric and respected Gotham Book Mart in midtown Manhattan, and he’s published a short memoir about his time there: My Years at the Gotham Book Mart with Frances Steloff, Proprietor: Recollections about the Pantheon of Writers and Artists Who Passed Through Her Store and How I Became a Bookman.
Though he arrived in Lenox as a counterculture refugee, he now sees himself as upholding the prosaic small-town aspect of Lenox. “We’ve lost our shoemaker and hardware store,” he says, savoring the memory of the candy store down the block where kids who delivered the Berkshire Eagle when it was an afternoon paper would gather to pick up their papers every day. “I’ve seen sidewalks come and go in this town,” he says, looking out at the construction in front of his store. “This is my third set of sidewalks!”
For now, Tannenbaum plans to serve wine (two reds, two whites at $6 or $7 a glass) only on Friday and Saturday nights until 9:30 p.m. “I like to say we’ll stay open later in summer and start drinking earlier in winter,” he says. He will also sell wine at readings and book signings. He professes that he was surprised by how much he enjoyed being a bartender last weekend and happy that the two daughters he raised as a single dad were by his side. But then chatting up customers has never been a problem. “I have been dispensing advice from the front desk for 34 years,” he says, ready to launch into another story. “Now we can share a drink while we talk, and I can make a buck from it., too.
11 Housatonic St. Lenox; 413.637.3390
October 16 at 2 p.m.
Book signing with Stuck Rubber Baby‘s Howard Cruse
October 17 at 2 p.m.
Reading, performance and booksigning for Please Take Me off the Guest List with authors Zack Lipez, Nick Zinner and Stacy Wakefield
October 30 at 2 p.m.
Reading and book signing with Dick Lipez, writing as Richard Stevenson, author of Cockeyed: A Donald Strachey Mystery