Lost New York: More Artifacts from a Distant World
I loved Joni Evans‘ piece in the Sunday New York Times about how the little things about book publishing have evaporated. You can read it here.’When I worked at Ballantine Books in 1983 we had one computer, set up in a small closet. It was made by Xerox and ran a program called Xywrite. In a short time it changed our lives. My cherished IBM Selectric II was starting to look like a relic.
Eight years earlier, at my first job ‘ during college ”we had something called a Quips machine. It had a telephone attached to it. You put a piece of paper in it, dialed the number of someone else with a Quips, and 18 minutes later the page went through to the receiver. By ‘83 they were called faxes, and the send time was cut in half.
Office equipment is not the only way New York has changed in that time. Back in those days, the city was dotted with bookstores, record stores, stereo shops. I had a routine, which I think was common, of stopping in the Doubleday shop on Fifth Avenue and 57th St. while waiting for the downtown bus. Four blocks south, on the opposite side of Fifth, there was another Doubleday, with a spiral staircase. A few more blocks south there was the beautiful, ornate Scribners, and Barnes & Noble across the street from it at 48th St.
It’s all a thing of the past now. The Kindle is here.
You would linger in book stores, and in record shops. This was before the Virgin Megastores, which are gone now, and around the time of Tower, which has also vanished. There was Sam Goody just about everywhere, and the Record Hunter. When it was LPs, you thumbed through rows and rows of them. When CDs came, there was the ooh and ah of what had been transferred, and the debates of vinyl vs. disc. Ha! It didn’t matter. Now music is compressed into our computers, the stores are memories. The big behemoths are closed, and now even the little shops ‘ like the Discomat on West 4th St. ”reside in dreams.
There aren’t many good landmarks to stop and browse in during a walk through Manhattan. That is, unless staring at shoes is of interest to you. How lovely it used to be to see which shops had which titles, whether in books or music. Very little was centralized or computerized. A clerk might have “to call the other store” to see if they had what you were looking for. There was no way to look it up. And so a walk home from work could be broken up by these little investigations. Wasn’t that the whole point of “the city that never sleeps”?