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Sarasota News & Books closing … vita sine libris mors est*

*Life without books is death.

I don’t pretend to know the business side of running a bookstore/café like Sarasota News & Books, but I do claim to know the emotional side of being one of its patrons.

When I moved back to Sarasota five years ago after living in Boston for years, Sarasota News & Books saved my sanity. Not being a barfly or club-goer, it was at this bookstore that I became a regular, staving off crazy-lonely feelings in the company of books and book-lovers. It was there that I scribbled out the beginnings of an essay entitled Café Chess – Très Sexy that would later launch my (so-called) career as a writer in Sarasota in a column that celebrated the cerebrally-sexy chess players sitting at the café’s outdoor tables.

But Sarasota News & Books served a far greater role in our community than to simply feed the emotional needs of lonely-heart, would-be writers and lovers of café society and books. It became, almost by default but considerably by design — thanks to the owners and the smart and charming managers and bookselling staff – a whole lot more. It became, quite simply, one of the last bastions for casual, nearly free, public intellectualism in Sarasota.

Sarasota is chock o’ block full of places for the glitterati. You can’t throw a martini shaker in this town without hitting some “arts” event or gala fundraiser where hipster types seem to spend half their nights striking poses for society page photogs.

Sarasota’s literati, however — the people who get their Saturday-night thrills not from seeing and being seen at the hotspot du jour, but from discovering a new book, rustling through the pages of a newspaper, debating healthcare with strangers at the next table, or just relaxing alone, in the company of others – have always had just one place in this town, really, to call their own: Sarasota News & Books.

Since the days of Charlie’s News, the various bookstore, café, and newsstand incarnations at 1341 Main Street have attracted what constitutes Sarasota’s intelligentsia – book-lovers, news-hounds, artists, students, aficionados of salon-esque society, masters of the local zeitgeist, visiting politicos and authors, and of course, local writers.

But more importantly, the newsstand cum café/bookstore consistently provided a place where folks of varied interests, ages, and zip codes could grab coffee, the news of the day, and browse, buy, and read the one item that has the single biggest influence on the individual and collective intellect – a book.

And, especially for a community that likes to applaud itself for its culture, a bookstore of this kind was essential. Because truly, there is no culture, there are no arts, without first cultivating the mind through the regular reading of books.

At Sarasota News & Books, the mind was extraordinarily well-served. More than the books that were sold, however, it was the intangible essence of the environment that stimulated not just the senses, but the sensibilities as well — with roomy tables and banned book displays, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that practically made you swoon, and huge arched windows that encouraged the pleasures of people-watching and absent-minded wool-gathering. It was a much-needed home away from home for locals and visitors alike.

When my book, Sideways in Sarasota, came out in 2008, Andrew Foley, as he had done for many other local writers, graciously hosted a book launch for me. And just about six weeks ago, Foley again opened his café up to me and another local writer, Theresa Rose – this time for a joint talk entitled “Sex, Socrates and the SRQ” that ran the gamut from sexuality, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to my soapbox yammering about, ironically, the importance of reading books.

The audience came not only to buy a signed copy of a local author’s book, but to hear and discuss ideas and have a smart evening out that didn’t involve donning Jimmy Choos and busting a C-note. More than a few of them commented on what it meant to them to have that kind of intellectual and communal event and environment.

Sarasota News & Books didn’t just feed the intellect as a purveyor of the written word; it became, particularly in recent years under the cultivation of Caren and Dick Lobo and the Foley siblings, a thriving heart of the community and a much-loved mecca for Sarasota’s life of the mind.

It will be missed.

(this piece published in Creative Loafing newspaper September 2009

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Posted on August 28th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
27 Responses to Sarasota News & Books closing … vita sine libris mors est*
  1. Nice piece on Sarasota News and Books, MC. Even given the short number of years of its existence, the store had become a Sarasota landmark both uner the Lobos and later under the Foleys’ ownership. I have fond memories of the professional manner in which they handled my book signings and the nice crowds they always managed to squeeze in there. I also remember when the store was Charlies News, which is where I got my beloved Boston Globe.

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Wayne! For the rest of you, if you haven’t read Barcomb’s newest thrilled — The Hunted — check it out at http://www.waynebarcomb.com.

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  3. Another great column, MC!

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  4. Lee B. — thanks so much for reading the column and for commenting!

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  5. What a wonderful tribute to Sarasota News & Books, which I never stopped calling Charlie’s News. Yes, it will be missed!

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  6. Thanks for reading, Ingrid. Me too — for a long time, I’d always call it Charlie’s….. I’m really bummed!

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  7. nice thoughts on SNB , I have been involved with a number of book events and have included andy insome of the peac coalition events The ambience of the coffee and buzz will be sorely missed. You have said it well,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,I think it will return , hope so…………augi

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  8. Thanks for reading, Augi … saw your friend Marge the other day! Your ears were burning in a good way!

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  9. YOU ARE A WINNER ALL AROUND

    ANOTHER LOSE TO THIS COMMUNITY [BOOK STORE]

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  10. Thanks so much for your sweet comment, Thelma — and thanks for reading!

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  11. Jocelyn Weisdorf
    August 28, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    As always, MC, you say what needs to be said. When I was “Searching in Sarasota” for a place to feel at home, it was SNB. And, it was at your book signing that I met you and thought, Aha, there are sassy , literate people here, thank God.
    Too bad it’s gone, but keep on being the voice of the Great Washed.

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  12. Ah, Jocelyn — great to hear from you. Yes, we did meet at that first book event …. Now, it will be gone. Still on the West Coast and/or going back and forth? Thanks so much for taking the time to read the blog and comment — hope all is well!

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  13. Pretty elitist and self serving commentary, [for the most part].

    If you really want to meet a large number of people who care about books and learning check out: http://www.thelifelonglearningacademy.com

    The Fall session starts on October 5, 2009.

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  14. V.M. thanks for reading the blog and for posting a comment. Not sure if you found the column itself elitist and self-serving or if you’re talking about the comments posted by readers — or both. I checked out the url you provided. I think I actually was a speaker at a class for a teacher at this academy — Jim Brown. But I had no idea there was a website and so much more going on. I appreciate the info. Hope you come back to this site and share more whenever you feel inclined.

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  15. Hi MC,

    Have enjoyed your columns in the past; this one made me sad as I sit in Toronto and contemplate a Sarasota winter without our very favourite book store. We’ve looked forward to visiting, browsing, reading, buying, java ing up and just feeling happily urban at the book store for years now. I’m contemplating selling my condo…when the market revives.

    Maybe the owners will reconsider? Move to another area? Perhaps a cooperative will emerge? A not for profit? Actually, the not for profit idea is a natural; all small and wonderful book stores can’t make a profit. Cheers!

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  16. Never been to this store, but as a transplant who has lived in NYC and Chicago, I’ve been hard pressed to find any kind of cafe society, artists, thinkers, writers etc., around where I live. I love the written word and am desperate for someplace where booklovers gather and where there is a free exchange of ideas that’s actually a civil discourse.

    It’s sad to see yet another independent close. I hope those who gathered there will find refuge at some other locale, which isn’t a Starbucks.

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  17. MC: great column and right on point! It is a pity that we lose a location such as Sarasota News and Books which was over the years a place we could all visit and feel comfortable which purusing some wonderful books and papers. When the Foley’s added the coffee bars and delicious pastries we felt it doesn’t get better than this! It will truly be missed and thanks for your column!

    Regards,
    Robert K. Volk

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  18. A very fitting comment on closing of Sarasota News and Books.
    I would also like to tell you that I have been attending The Life Long Learning Academy for the last two years and have found it to be very stimulating. The administrators that run it are excellent people. It is a very well run program and have met some very nice people in the classes.
    I highly reccommend it!
    They also offer a free speaker forum. Check it out!

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  19. Susan — I am right there with you — on the browing, reading, buying and just feeling happily urban! love that quote! if i learn more about what they’re up to, i’ll post an update blog. in the meantime, thanks so much for reading … way up there in toronto … and for taking the time to comment!

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  20. Charles — a transplant from Chi-town and the big apple! You are desperate? So am I! I’ll keep you posted on updates for offerings in this town on civil discourse. if you haven’t checked out Forum Truth — check it out. very good stuff going on with them. thanks for reading and for posting a comment.

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  21. Elinor — thanks for the heads up on the speaker bureau at — I think I actually spoke to a media class there once on blogging. But i’m going to check it out further.

    And, Robert — my pleasure (but a sad one) to write about a place I loved so much. I’m glad to hear you felt the same. Thanks for reading and posting a comment.

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  22. You know, instead of just sitting on our duffs, feeling sad at yet another very important Sarasota Icon closing it’s doors, lets dig in to the “main reason” SN&Books is closing shop – high rent. I say the name of the lease holder is placed in print along with the businesses the lease holder has their hands in and set up a boycot of each and every business they have shares in. You just don’t sit back and write at how sad you are, you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT and the best defence is a strong offence. You hit the lease owner/s where it will hurt them the most; in THEIR pocketbook. Having come from the Midwest, when something like this happened, we never just sat back and did nothing but feel sorry, we DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT. You do your best at putting the biggest pressure on their business and if you fail, well, at least you can say you tried. Sure, I’m all for everyones right to own a business – (the lease holder/s), but I’m also for the rights of small/independant businesses at making a profit as well. Anyone can sit at the comfort of their homes, post a blog, but it takes true heart to really take action. Action my friends, is so much stronger than words any day of the week. One thing I’ve noticed about Sarasotians, they are too much like little lambs, simply following the sheep herders and do what ever they say. Well, I would much rather than die like the lion than kneel like a sheep, any day. Lets get the name/s of the lease holders who wouldn’t negotiate a fair deal to keep SN&Books open, find out what businesses they own and boycot each and every one of them.
    Also, do you like the trees that still line Main Street? Well, the original founder; Janice Green of Save our Sarasota – (S.O.S.), who was largely responsible at fighting to keep the trees on Main, passed away a while back. On Saturday, September 26th at 9:00 am, we will be having a ceremony celebrating her life at the Bayfront Park where two trees have been planted in her memory. Janice Green is another exaample of someone with courage to fight for what she believed in. For those of you who do not remember, Delaney – (the Megamillionare developer), wanted to cut down every single tree on Main St. from Washington Blvd. to Palm Ave. in favor of placing “cozy” little business plaques and hang them from the overhangs of the storefronts. Hd it not been for Janice Green and her courageous initiative, the beautiful trees would have been another Sarasota Icon gone astray. Ms. Green proved that sustainability can in fact coexist with development. So people, what are you going to do about another Sarasota Icon leaving us? Sarasota’s charm, culture, arts is in your hands.

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  23. A couple of us have discussed this — mainly Francis and I on our WSLR 96.5 FM show on Wednesday morning at 9 AM. We feel that too many people may have enjoyed the facilities and freebees so much that they failed to buy enough to support the place. Perhaps SN&B should have had a cover charge – as detestable as that sounds.

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  24. Interesting points, Advocate!

    Gary O. – thanks for reading the blog and commenting.

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  25. Hi MC,
    Just read your column and am sad to hear Sarasota News & Books is closing. I never had the opportunity to visit the bookstore while I was in Sarasota, but your column described it wonderfully. I could feel myself sitting there with you, people watching, reading and just having the opportunity ” to be”.
    Maybe down the road, you’ll be a bookstore owner. It would be a great one.
    I’ll have to check out ” The Life Long Learning Academy”. My sister in Sedona goes to one there and really enjoys it.
    Take care

    Theresa

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  26. leonard stevens
    August 30, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Dear MC,
    Classy as alway -where have all the book flowers gone? Gone to condos everyone
    not so far away! Your column up to your usual high standard and, of course, much enyoyed. May your pen never run dry, Leonard

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  27. Rats! I was just comforting myself with the thought of the bookstore, decided to look at the website – -and poof! It’s gone. Now, I’d have to say that in 2005, I found the staff cold and rather condescending. People buy businesses that are working and then must put their personal stamp on them…(I’m not suggesting this is what happened here, but I’m not certain), often suffocating the business. Nonetheless, the bookstore played an important part in my life while residing in Sarasota, and I’m sorry it is gone.

    That corner was meant to be a news and bookstore. There has been credence given to the belief that the original use of a store or building tends to keep that intention through time – – which is one hypothesis over why other businesses fail in those locations. (NO idea why I brought that up).

    I have a drawing I did of fictional SNB patron sitting by all the “No!” signs. Hmmm very mixed feelings about the place. But, at least patrons would engage in conversation. That doesn’t happen elsewhere.

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