Remembering the Passaic Book Center, N.J. circa 1980s   3 comments

My friend Sam Gafford on here suggested I hone in on particular posts on

particular topics of lost or recalled bookstores etc., so this post will briefly reminisce

about the fabled and now long gone Passaic Book Center that used to be in

gorgeous, lovely bombed-out downtown Passaic, N.J. from the early 1980s-early 1990s,

after which it apparently lost some partners and had some huge shelf or structural

collapse, and sometime in the early 1990s, moved to nearby Montclair, N.J.

where it still is, but as I found out on a visit last year, is not nearly a tenth as good

as it once was and not even as good as the store had been on my last visit in 1994 or so.

Anyway, the Passaic Book Center was somehow providentially located

right down the block from my dad’s old NJ apartment in Passaic, I used to

go out there with him and my stepmother for weekend and holiday visits

from at least 1980-1992 or so, and I’d somehow hooked up with other

Lovecraftians, most crucially Robert M. Price, after a fateful visit my mom

and I made to Providence, RI in 1982, where I discovered Crypt of Cthulhu

and Lovecraft Studies at Merlin’s Closet Books (another story for another post, and now

also many years long gone) and then Bob Price and I first met up at the Book Center,

which got me writing stuff at age 14 for Bob for his new small press mag. Crypt of Cthulhu, and thus I could also

take advantage of the Book Center’s unbelievable stock of used and rare horror and HPL catalogue,

as well as get more involved with amateur press and small press activities,

which eventually led to my friendships with Bob, S. T. Joshi, and many others

in the field.  I was at a tender age to be getting hooked up with such illustrious

figures, and the Book Center was a dream come true, we had nothing like it

on L.I., and never have, the only thing that could rival it was the old Forbidden

Planet in NYC.   The Book Center was a huge, spare looking two building or room

warehouse type shop with gigantic wooden shelves piled up to the rafters, literally,

with books and mags. and god knows what else.  The floors were littered with

stacks of prob. complete runs of Omni, Playboy, Penthouse, Heavy Metal,

Famous Monsters, and other mags.   Even at bottom on the left stuck into narrow

wooden alcoves were copies of Crypt of Cthulhu, Lovecraft Studies, other small

press horror goodies, used paperbacks, and tons of other great stuff.

And then they had an actual typed up master list of Arkham House and other

Lovecraft and ltd. edition/rare books in the field always available for consultation.

You could spot, for example, the new AH Solar Pons August Derleth slipcased

2 vol. hc box set up on high way above the main top shelving units, tempting

book collectors of all stripes.   That’s why I say you’ll never see a shop like this again.

I used to amble down from my dad’s apt. to the Book Center and spend hours

buying, perusing, and b.s.ing with the friendly staff, coming back loaded with

goodies or at least the latest Lovecraftian publications, playing my video games,

reading my Lovecraftian/horror literature, and watching MTV and pretty much

being a happy little horror nut/junior high-schooler that I was.  Little did I know

then how good I had it, or how absurdly good my luck was that something like

the Book Center was a five minute walk from my dad’s apt. for goodness’ sake!

I’d give a few key pieces of my collection to have this place back and restored to its

former glories, I can tell you that much.  That writer/publisher/Lovecraft/weird fiction

expert/Universalist Minister/Gnostic Gospels-Biblical scriptures expert Robert M. Price

was living nearby and was available to meet with and encourage a young fan was icing on the cake,

and invaluable to my later writing “career” (I’m not calling it that!), which is also

a story for a later post.  One hilarious time I called Bob when i was out in NJ as I did many

times later,  and Bob and his wife Carol were about to head out to see the new movie

The Sword and the Sorcerer but which Bob said was prob. more like “The Sword and the Idiot”.

I think they also attended the premier of Conan The Barbarian, poor folks.

The current version of the Montclair version is a decent basic book shop, but the rare book

selection and horror sections these days are severely limited, and in my

humble opinion, quite overpriced compared to days of yore.   I was severely disappointed on my 2011 visit,

and the only consolation was finding two actual Arkham House books including Richard Tierney’s Collected Poems

fairly reasonably at $20 each including Joanna Russ’s The Zanzibar Cat, but the rest of their rare book section was

very highball-priced. Their basement record section was a vast disappointment,

and I don’t think there was a single Lovecraft book in the shop, minus

one overpriced dog-eared bent copy of S. T. Joshi’s HPL Miscellaneous Writings (1995)

an Arkham House book but not an old and out of print one, priced at an absurd

$100 and not even signed by the editor.  Their regular horror and SF sections are now kind of

woeful and placed up on high so you cannot even browse it easily, something that

doubly infuriated me.  The SF section was browsable but full of standard cheap

paperbacks, common editions, and nothing special as far as I could tell.

I also managed to visit the fabled Tick Tock Diner

on Route 3 for breakfast AND lunch to and from Montclair, the site of

many enjoyable and fabulous breakfasts and brunches with my dad

and stepmother years previous.  The diner’s still great as always;

shame the bookstore isn’t, but the chances of it being frozen in amber

as great as it was in the early 1980s was, of course, a tall order to begin with.

Clearly an era ended in 1994 on my last visit to the Montclair Book Center,

which was still as great as the orig. location, and at which I found

books like the Arkham House Walter de la Mare Eight Tales for all of $13,

among other gems.  We will probably never see its like again.

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3 responses to “Remembering the Passaic Book Center, N.J. circa 1980s

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  1. It’s sad how good we had things back then as sf/horror fans and yet we never knew it!

  2. Sam,

    That’s for sure. i was really surprised how lame the Montclair version was,
    since even in the mid-1990s the place was still fantastic, very close to the
    original Passaic store. They’d separated rare books from the other departments,
    which in one sense made it easier but I liked it better when they had all the horror
    and SF/fantasy rare and hc books in one or two sections on the wall lower down
    so you could browse. And the prices were pretty inflated for the most part,
    asking $100 for the A. Machen Heptameron translation, that’s a tad steep
    although it is a rare book, but it’s not prime Machen as considering his own
    fiction. But the trends online seem to be even worse in terms of over-pricing!

  3. Sam,

    What’s even sadder are my atrophied graphics skills, and/or this WordPress
    interface! I promise to fix my header and background later today if possible.

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