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AFTERWORD San Antonio IN A SMALL ROOM in a small library at Incarnate Word College, there are six shelves of books 160 volumes to be exact. All are first editions, and all are inscribed to a woman who Ronnie Dugger once described as “the chief guardian of civilization between here and Mexico City.” Her name is Florence Rosengren, and the reason Dugger held her in such she was the heart and soul of Rosengren’s Books. In an inscription in the same collection, Willie Morris called the store “one of the finest and most admirable bookstores in America.” As of the end of this month, after 52 years in San Antonio, the store will close its doors, a victim of whatever demon it is that has devoured most of the independent bookstores in America over the past decade. It is most certainly a socioeconomic beast, a bastard of the unhappy coupling of America’s loss of interest in reading and the bigger-isbetter economic trends of the Reagan years. Of course, the problem is more deeply rooted than that. It dates back to a 1978 IRS ruling under which warehoused backstock became a non-depreciable taxable asset, whether it was screwdrivers or copies of “The Turn of the Screw.” As is well known, the result was that the backbone of American literature was either remaindered and put out of print or simply shredded. Prior to the IRS decision, there was the publishing trend toward blockbuster novels which siphoned off production, publicity, and royalty monies from slower selling items such as poetry, criticism, and serious fiction. And of course, from the authors, as well. But Rosengren’s had successfully weathered such problems, a feat attribut Bryce Milligan is the author of With the Wind, Kevin Dolan, a novel of Ireland and Texas, Daysleepers & Other Poems, and several plays. He is the book critic for the San Antonio Light and the editor of two literary magazines. able partly to the store’s extremely loyal and often well-heeled customers, and partly to the underlying reason for such loyalty: the store would do almost anything for its customers. You wanted coffee, they brought you coffee; you wanted Christmas gift wrapping in August, you got it; you wanted a $9,000 book which had to be paid for by the store in advance, they got it for you. You wanted to meet famous authors, they had book signing parties as often as anyone worth meeting came to town. According to Cam Rosengren, Florence’s daughter-in-law who has run the store for the past ten years or so, the culprit is called Downtown, with a capital “D.” “Rosengren’s has been a Downtown store, a tiny part of the national image of San Antonio when that place was individualistic and unique,” she said in a three-page press release in which she raked the city administration of San Antonio over the coals. “In a cookie-cutter city, [Rosengren’s] has no place.” Calling downtown “dirty, dangerous, and disreputable,” the statement castigates the city fathers for catering to “developers and planners” who are deluded by “a long-term, calculated misreading of what Downtown is, can be or even should be.” Not that San Antonio has lost any of its appeal to las turistas, but one can safely say that for residents of the city and of the state, the charm associated with many of the natively-owned businesses has gone the way of the condor. Artist and author Amy Freeman Lee once praised Rosengren’s as a bookstore that made you “glad you went to school and learned how to read.” Texas historian Joe B. Frantz called it “a vigorous island of culture in the middle of Texas.” The proof of such glowing statements lay in the sort of clientele the store attracted. Alfred Knopf, Sr., and Alfred Knopf, Jr., visited the store and corresponded with Florence, as did Bennet Cerf and Rockwell Kent, who once designed a bookplate for Florence’s mother. During World War II, the Rosengren’s home became a favorite Sunday meeting ground for young GIs with a flair for literature and the arts. There was Norman Granz \(later of “Jazz Kubik, whose music won him a Pulitzer. Pianists Jacque Abrams and Robert Wallenborn, the painter Paul Wonner, authors like Garson Kanin \(“Born Schorr, all frequented the store and the charming, bookish, home near Brackenridge Park. Texas authors Walter Prescott Webb, William Goyen, J. Frank Dobie, John Graves, Larry McMurtry and many others have found the store a literary oasis. At one of the last booksigning McMurtry, suffering from severe allergies and none too fond of the notion of signing books for three hours at a “It is something you eventually get tired of. You just do it for stores you like being in.” And therein lies the truth about why Rosengren’s Books was able to survive three changes of location, street name changes, parking limitations, rents designed for high volume sales to tourists, and all the other assorted inconveniences that go with running a downtown business. The fact is, the store was a place bibliophiles simply liked being in. Brought to San Antonio from Chicago in 1935, Florence and Frank Sr. initially set up a rare book store on the sixth floor of the Milam Building. One of their better customers, Harry Hertzberg, had described the city to them as something like heaven when compared to the Depression-stricken Chicago of the mid-30s. But the couple soon found that Hertzberg was just about the only customer around for the sort of books they stocked first edition 1611 King James Bibles and the like. Within a year they had opened up a shop for new and rare books on the first floor of the same building. Every single book in the store was there by choice. As Frank Sr. put it: “Why handle ordinary books when there are so many good ones?” After Frank died in 1949, Florence carried on in the same spirit. That created the intellectual and aesthetic island referred to by Prof. Frantz. It was a store in which it was unusual if one could not lay hands on a copy of Spengler’s “Decline of the West” or Panofsky’s “Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism.” It was a store characterized by taste, by intelligent and wellread personnel, and by the lingering idea that these books, new or not, were in Goodbye to a Bookstore By Bryce Milligan 22 AUGUST 14, 1987