Friday, August 21, 2009

Indy Bookshops Face Tough Struggle to Survive In a Digital World

By Joseph Kellard

“Do you have any James Patterson?” a customer asked Matt Schab, owner of Lazy Days in Long Beach, last Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t think so — you’ll have to search around,” said Schab, whose independent bookstore has been looking rather disheveled since he announced it will close later this month.

Neon-colored sales signs adorn the store’s front window, and once well-stocked shelves are now much less crowded with books. Lazy Days is the latest casualty among independent booksellers that once peppered the South Shore. Just as record-and-CD stores have been done in by iTunes, book stores have been undercut by the likes of

Schab, who managed the now nonexistent National Books in Kew Garden Hills before he opened Lazy Days in 2002, admitted that he knew what he was getting into even then, as online bookstores were burgeoning. Few of his early customers went online for books, but as the years passed, fewer of them browsed in his store and schools stopped coming in with reading lists. Schab said that losing half of his special-order business to and eBay hurt his bottom line.

“You do it because you love books,” he said of the store, which offers used books, records, VHS movies, antiques and framed artwork.

While Schab said he will dearly miss his customers, some of whom have become friends, he expressed some relief that he will be taking his books home to sell them online, on Web sites such as and, while he works at the Long Beach Library and studies for a master’s in library science.

“There’s more money on the Net, and it means less hours for me and more time with my family,” said Schab, who works alone almost daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But despite the e-book business and Google’s blossoming online library, other independent stores, new and old, are finding ways to survive. Last summer, Tim Schmidt took the 15,000 books he had stockpiled in his Oceanside home, where he ran an online business, and put them in the basement of his new store, Village Book Shoppe in Rockville Centre, where he sells new and used books.

“The business just outgrew my house, and I figured the next step to grow was maybe get a retail store and run the online stuff from the basement,” Schmidt said.

His used books — everything from Harlequin romances to histories — sell at half the retail price, and his online business allows him to have a large bargain book section upstairs, with new releases and New York Times bestsellers. “The online and retail store play off of each other,” Schmidt said. “If I have a book that’s not selling on the retail end, I’ll bring it downstairs and sell it online. If I get some cheap online book, I can bring it upstairs and offer it to retail customers at a discount.”

Schmidt’s shop replaced one called Barely Bent Books, and now his is the only bookstore left in Rockville Centre after the Odyssey Book Shop closed in January.

Meanwhile, the closest major chains are Borders in Westbury, Barnes & Noble in Carle Place and Waldenbooks in the Roosevelt Field and Green Acres malls. Schmidt said their distances work to his advantage. “A lot of the customers want to stay local,” he said. “They don’t want to drive up to the big guys at the malls.”

His closest competitor is Chapter One Books in neighboring Oceanside. Owner Arlene Toback said that while she must contend with the distant discount chain stores and, they are only indirect competitors. “Does it hurt you? Ultimately yes, because you’d have more traffic,” said Toback, who opened her store six years ago and sells only new books. “But do I consider that my competition? No, because people who are going to shop that way are going to shop that way. People who come in here want to get things at the moment.”

Toback said her store emphasizes customer service. She provides a one-day book-delivery service, has a reading list section for Oceanside and many neighboring school districts and parochial schools, and hires people who read and know the books her customers typically enjoy. "I want to be able to talk to my customers about the books we’re selling," said Toback. “... And getting to know your customers is a great part of it, too. It’s key.”

With established bookstores, like Booklovers Paradise in Bellmore, the allure for many customers is their old or rare volumes and their ambiance. On a recent Friday afternoon, Sarah Tamsuy of Malverne stopped in at Paradise for the first time, asked owner Amnon Tishler if he took credit cards and browsed for classic novels that are on her college reading list for next semester. She walked carefully around the shop, which overflows with 50,000 books, many of them stacked waist-high on the floor. “I kind of like this atmosphere,” Tamsuy said. “I feel like there’s more to find and you can spend all day here.”

Tishler, who opened Paradise in 1990, said his store stays afloat because it is the only one of its kind for miles around, especially now, with the demise of Odyssey Books and Lazy Days. “I own the store now — I don’t pay rent,” Tishler added. “My daughter is out of college; I don’t need tons of money to make a living anymore. But for a young person to open a retail used, rare bookstore, it’s almost impossible.”

Like Lazy Days, Tishler’s walk-in business has shrunk dramatically, since virtually all the books in his store can be found for much less online. Many customers are looking for sports books, and military and history books about World War II and the Civil War are also big sellers. Half his sales now are through

Tishler started his online business in 1998. “I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” he said. He competes online by providing precise descriptions of his books, including the number of pages and their conditions, which outlets like often lack. “But there are still people who like to look and touch and smell the book before they buy,” he said.

While he is sad about the decline of the used bookstore, Tishler has resigned himself to the online world. “You have to go with the flow and the changing times,” he said.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

‘He was absolutely a leader’

Lewis Harris, innovative firefighter, dies at 87

By Joseph Kellard

Lewis Harris and Stanley Hirschfield had much in common, starting with their boyhoods in the Bronx. The same age, the cousins were Boy Scouts and lifeguards together. During World War II they enlisted in the military. And they followed their fathers’ bootsteps into the New York City Fire Department.

But in his poetic eulogy to Harris, a Lido Beach resident who died at 87 after a lengthy illness on Aug. 6, Hirschfield underscored his cousin’s distinctions throughout their lives.

“Lew would study, I would play and our differences in a way brought us both together, closer every day,” Hirschfield, 87, a retired mechanic from Massapequa, read to some 500 mourners at Harris’s elaborate, firematic funeral at Congregation Beth Shalom in Long Beach last Sunday.

“He went the way of scholars, I dickered with machines, I enlisted in the Navy, he entered the Marines.”

Harris and Hirschfield joined the FDNY in the late 1940s, with a company in Harlem. He went on to a distinguished career with various companies throughout Manhattan, marked by leadership, mentoring and innovation.

“When it came to firefighting, Lew was one of the best, and it didn’t take him long to rise above the rest.”

Harris developed and patented fire equipment. Because a 2-inch hose was too powerful to hold and a 1 1/2-inch was too small, he created a 1 3/4 -inch line that enhanced speed and mobility, according to PLLFD Chief Dennis Collins, a retired FDNY firefighter. “He was just the best,” Collins said of Harris’s devotion to his work. “He was all fire department.”

Harris became the FDNY’s chief of training, communications and operations at Randall’s Island, where he built a new training center and developed and patented two types of nozzles and a pull-down alarm box system. His other contributions were the Starfire System, which computerized the fire department in the 1970s, and the introduction of the Jaws of Life to the PLLFD, which, according to Collins, may have been the first company in Nassau County to use this tool, which helps extract motorists from cars involved in serious accidents.

“When I first met him, I was a teenage lifeguard down at the beach in Lido,” Collins recalled. “And most guys who came down would take shoes to hold down their blankets. He would come down with Local Law 5, a big building code book which was about the size of three Bibles. And that was his reading for the day.”

A graduate of George Washington High School in Manhattan and NYU’s College of Engineering, Harris was a fire science instructor for 15 years at the Delahanty Institute, a now defunct civil service school, and taught fire administration at Queens College.

“He served his country well in that vast Pacific hell, and did his duty on Okinawa. For his actions and his skills, and his leadership in the hills, he was awarded the military medal Bronze Star.”

Born May 11, 1922, in the Bronx, Harris grew to 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, and was a lifeguard at Rockaway Beach, where Hirschfield introduced him to his future wife, Soni Silver, before he enlisted in the Army in 1940. He was soon transferred to the Marine Corps, which needed engineers, and became a demolition officer and an expert in mine disposal. First Lt. Harris served in the Tinian Unit in the Northern Mariana Islands during the invasion of Okinawa. After Japan’s surrender, he and his unit went to China to help repatriate the Japanese.

When he came home, Harris returned to lifeguarding and, with Hirschfield as his best man, married Soni in 1945. The couple moved to Lido Boulevard in Lido Beach, where they raised three children, Glenn, Heidi and Stefanie, and Lewis volunteered for the PLLFD.

“As a father, as a son, as a leader, he was one who inspired every person that he met.”

Glenn Harris, a Lido Beach resident and an FDNY firefighter, remembered that his father took him on fire calls when he was a boy. “Whenever any crisis happened and I would go to fires with him, just watching how my father would lead the men and doing what they did, he was such an inspiration,” Glenn said.
His father was a tough firefighter who was otherwise quite gentle with his children and grandchildren, Glenn added.

Heidi Harris Weitz's daughter, Samara Weitz, 21, said that her grandfather’s dedication to the fire department was equaled only by his dedication to his family. “Nicole, his other granddaughter, was a gymnast who was internationally ranked and actually made it all the way to the Olympic trials but broke her ankle there,” Weitz recalled. “He was so dedicated to her and pretty much paid for her whole gymnastics career. He would drive her to practice all the time. And he would pay for my dance classes. He was a second father to both of us.”

Her grandfather, Weitz recalled, loved the beach and sailing boats from Maine to the Caribbean, and was an avid lifeguard, swimmer and runner.

Mindy Warshaw, a Long Beach resident and a close friend of the Harrises, called Lewis an icon and a giving person whose mission in life was to save lives. “He had integrity and was a man you had a lot of respect for,” Warshaw said. “He was just an awesome and amazing man.”

Warshaw said that in recent years, as his health declined, Heidi Weitz converted part of her Blackheath Road home into an apartment for her parents, where her father died.

“There are very few people you will meet in your life like Lew,” Hirschfield said. “Anything good, he did. He was a straight shooter, he was a good athlete, and anyone had a problem, they went to him. He was absolutely a leader.”

Harris is survived by his wife, 85, his son, 55, and Weitz, 53, all of Lido Beach, and seven grandchildren. The Harrises’ daughter Stefanie pre-deceased her father. He was buried at Beth Moses Cemetery in Farmingdale.