Thanks, Fred

Fred Bass at the Strand in an undated photo.

With the passing of the Strand Bookstore’s Fred Bass last Wednesday at age 89, the Village lost one of its true literary and business legends.

Bass’s father, Benjamin, a Lithuanian immigrant, opened the Strand in 1927 at Eighth and Greene Sts. — though it was first called the Pelican Book Shop. Fred was born the next year. Shortly thereafter, Benjamin moved the shop to Fourth Ave., to what was then known as Book Row.

Fred Bass started working at the store at age 13, going on to become the place’s manager in 1956, when he was in his late 20s. In all, he worked at the Strand for more than seven decades.

Today, the Strand is Book Row’s only survivor. And in an era when independent bookstores are fading, the Strand is still going strong, known around the world as a literary mecca.

Although Bass a few years ago turned over most of the responsibility for running the business to his daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, he only officially retired just a couple of months ago.

Simply put, the Village — and New York, for that matter — wouldn’t be the same without the Strand.

The Village, since at least the early 1900s, has been a center of literary ferment. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Beats made it their stomping ground. Writers have always flocked to the Village’s parks, cafes and cultural happenings to find like-minded souls.

Art, poetry, beauty, ideas, history, politics, love, health, revolution, endless possibilities — all can be found within the walls of a great bookstore like the Strand. It’s an embodiment of the creative and intellectual soul and spirit of the Village — and also of what is increasingly “the Village of the mind,” as gentrification has changed the landscape so much.

Perusing the endless and carefully cultivated (and discounted) offerings on the store’s book tables or wandering among its shelves — i.e., “the stacks” — is the farthest thing possible from buying a book on Amazon with an antiseptic plastic mouse click or a tap on a smartphone screen.

For example, you might find yourself — as we once did not too long ago — in the Strand’s stacks and notice a book title, “Manchild in the Promised Land,” by Claude Brown, that has a familiar ring, but you aren’t exactly sure what it’s about. So you check out the first page to see if the writing style and subject grab you, and they do, and you buy it. And you find that you can’t stop reading the book and touching its tactile, paper pages, and find it to be a tour de force — plus, with a fair amount of action happening in the Village, to boot (after Brown moves down here from Harlem).

Or you might randomly bump into a friend or neighbor while at the Strand and catch up with him or her. Maybe you might strike up a conversation with a stranger or a staffer.

On the one hand, the Strand has thankfully kept its authentic, distinctly noncorporate flavor. But it has also “kept up with the times,” by holding daily events and live-streaming them and so forth.

One of the best moves Bass ever made was to buy the building. That is likely a big reason why the Strand is still standing amid an era of hypergentrication. It’s a sobering fact — but it’s part of this story — a story through which Fred Bass’s life and love for books are indelibly interwoven. Thanks, Fred, for the Strand and your great love of books.

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