I spotted this a few months ago. On 34th Avenue near 30th Street is a sign on an as-yet unopened storefront with a job posting for a webmaster. The email address to send inquiries is seaburngroup@gmail.com. Is this the same Seaburn Books that closed shop in Astoria back in 2011?

Seaburn Books Returning to Astoria?

Seaburn Books Returning to Astoria?

Seaburn Books formerly had a large space at 33-18 Broadway. Prior to it being Seaburn the space was occupied by Stowell and Sons. Today the space is once again empty.

But that doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is that Astoria might be getting another bookstore, albeit one that would likely offer a relatively eclectic selection of titles. The Astoria Bookstore on 31st Street and the Midtown Comics on 41st Street are, as far as I know, the only other dedicated bookshops in Astoria.

If the past iteration of Seaburn is any indication this shop would specialize in books by African authors. At its Broadway location you’d find stacks of hundreds of copies of books by Ethiopian poets, Nigerian novelists, and Western Saharan essayists. It wasn’t so much the selection of writers that was strange but the absurd quantities. A stack of copies of one poetry book by a Ghanaian poet could reach from floor to ceiling.

Seaburn on Broadway also had more mainstream books but that selection, too, was strange. They would have dozens of copies of user guides for long-outdated software such as Netscape 2.0, Windows for Workgroups, and DOS 6.0. They would also shelve completely random stuff (which I loved, btw) like booklets from long-ago exhibits at the New Museum, high school literary magazines from the 1980s, or 500 copies of a biography of Al Pacino.

As for a physical bookstore versus the obvious alternative, I wrote this a long time ago on a message board somewhere:

To me the value of a physical bookstore and a physical library is the randomness of finding something you were not looking for and which you never thought to look for, either through intentional placement by the bookstore staff or by mis-shelving. Technology, of course, makes the same thing possible (even more effectively, in my opinion).

I also appreciate the social element of a live book store. Patelson’s music shop in midtown was one of my favorite places to visit in New York, and only partly on account of the books. Until it closed in 2009 I regarded Patelson’s not so much as a bookstore but as more of a meeting place where I could reasonably expect to encounter other classical musicians I knew or with whom I was familiar. The same was true of the classical music aisle at the old Coliseum Books at Columbus Circle, where I met many a distinguished composer/performer/person-about-music.

I am surprised Seaburn lasted as long as long as it has, though it puzzled me over the years to see the scorn heaped upon that shop by folks begging for a chain book store to come to Astoria. It seemed like no time at all had passed since Barnes and Noble and Borders were said to embody the corporatization of book-buying; no time at all since those behemoths were regarded as the enemies of mom-and-pop bookshops, enemies of culture, enemies of all things good and wholesome in the book world. Today that anxiety, at least within the publishing world, seems to be directed toward e-readers and other digital industry-infrastructure-evaporators.

I don’t mind admitting that for me a choice between a physical bookstore and an online source virtually always comes down to cost. A few months ago I needed a particular dictionary. Borders had it for $30, but with my handydandy smartphone I found that Amazon had the exact same thing, brand new,  for $4. Even with overnight shipping the item cost less than half what Borders wanted for it. A similar experience a few years ago with a Bukowski book: $40 at a Madison avenue mom-and-pop book shop, $3 online. In principle I think local shops should survive but whose responsibility is it to pay 350% markup to make it so?

I still have a receipt somewhere around here from when Stowell and Sons Books was in the Seaburn space.

The Salvation Army on Steinway & 34th Ave. has a wall of bookshelves, as do other second-hand and thrift shops in the area, so you can still get physical books around here. Selection at these outlets is random, of course, but that’s kinda how I like it.