BENNINGTON — At Now and Then Books at 439 Main St., everything must go.
We’re talking about a deep discount – as deep as deep gets. As in, bring your own boxes and bags, but leave your money at home.
The independent used book store, perched on the second floor, is going out of business as of Tuesday, owner Telly Halkias said. Until then, every single book in its warren of narrow stacks – every poem, every play, every sultry romance and heroic adventure, every hardcover biography and best-seller purchased at an airport newsstand – is yours to have and to hold, for absolutely nothing.
Two things: First, definitely bring boxes and bags, because the store has run out. Second, don’t wait: once Tuesday comes, so will the pulp truck.
“My own house has probably about 15,000 books in throughout the house in our libraries. And another 30,000 books in storage, which is sort of part of this story here,” Halkias said. “I’m going to try and transition those those books that are in storage into an online form of this sometime over the next year. But this has to go.”
Halkias said the landlord has need for the space, which is the only unimproved part of the building. “The landlords have always been very good. They’ve kept our rent low. They’ve been great,” he said.
Owning the store, Halkias said, “has been a tremendous joy.”
“I already feel a little bittersweet, but some good things run their course. And I’m pretty much happy with everything else I do too,” said Halkias, who also teaches and has long written about theater for the Banner and its sister publications.
“I’ve been thinking about this the whole the whole time. I’ve been in here preparing. And I’m sure when the pulper comes that’s going to be a whole other different level of bittersweet. But the bitter is subsiding by seeing the joy of people coming in here. That has been so much fun.”
Now and Then Books got its start in 1978, when original owner Chet Stockman opened it in the garage of his County Street home, Halkias said. The store moved to a space above what is now Subway on North Street, and then to 439 Main St. in 1980.
Halkias said he bought the business 20 years ago. Paul LaMontagne and Wolf Roxon previously owned it, he said.
Halkias estimated that the store had 35,000 volumes squeezed into every nook and cranny of the place when the going out of business giveaway started. He thinks that’s down to about 25,000, in large part thanks to a Wednesday afternoon literacy raid by Bennington College students.
“They trotted out of here with eight boxes of books. They were thrilled, they were beside themselves,” he said.
People who love books love them a lot. Take Renee Laux and her daughter Savannah, who drove all the way from Cazenovia, N.Y. and were delighted to find out that their book expedition was now a shopping spree. Savannah, a college student, was in particular glad to find philosophy books, as they tend to be expensive.
“We go to little towns, and the first place we go is to independent bookstores, old bookstores,” Renee said. “And so I looked [the store] up and when we walked in the door I was like, ‘What, they’re closing?’ Then [Savannah] said “I think he said everything’s free.’”
Books are full of ideas and imagination. But they also are full of things readers tuck between the pages as bookmarks and promptly forget they put there.
“I am actually thinking of writing a book out about the things we have found over 20 years in books in this store,” he said. “There are love letters, or breakup letters. There are 50 year old electric bills. We found people’s rent money from 40 years ago, stuck in books. We found postcards from Europe. We found letters from troops overseas, we found pictures of weddings.”