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A sad day in Gotham

A bit of New York literary history ended yesterday, the New York Times reports, as the inventory of Gotham Book Mart in midtown Manhattan was sold off to the highest bidder. The bookstore had served as a sort of salon, and its stock included books signed by John Updike and Anaïs Nin, but last fall a judge evicted the store owner and ordered an auction over a claim of more than a half-million dollars in rent owed.

The auction was unusual in that the building’s landlord had bid $400,000 for everything, and unless the cumulative amount raised by auctioning individual items topped that figure, the landlord would get everything – which he did. That left a lot of disappointed collectors, dealers, and sentimental customers.

The staff had been working feverishly to catalog the vast inventory ever since a move three years ago to 16 East 46th Street from 41 West 47th Street. Many of the boxes remained unpacked. The store set up a Web site with pictures of the interior with its antique wood paneling. But the staff never managed to itemize the inventory online.

On the fifth floor, an elderly dealer from Ireland saw near the top of a pile a box that was rumored to include books from the James Joyce Literary Society, which convened quarterly at Gotham for about 60 years. He could not reach it.

“I came back from Ireland just for this disaster,” the dealer, Sean Crean, said before the auction began. “There’s no catalog; there’s no lot numbers.”

A teary Andreas Brown, the store owner, said he hoped there would be another incarnation of the Gotham Book Mart somewhere, but the landlord plans to sell the property that was its former home.