Community Bookstore celebrates 40 years at the heart of the Slope

Literary lions! Borough’s best writers salute Community Bookstore
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

More than 800 book lovers defied the supposed death of print on Saturday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Community Bookstore, a fixture in a neighborhood that has changed, but still loves the printed word.

Fans packed the pews of the Old First Reformed Church on Seventh Avenue to hear illustrious authors — most of them locals — read from their favorite books of the last 40 years. Novelist and playwright Mary Morris read from E.L. Doctorow’s classic novel, “Ragtime.” Paul Auster, known for his absurdist and existential memoir and fiction, read poems by George Oppen, whose career as a poet flowered after he moved to Brooklyn in 1960.

Novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, who are married, took turns watching their two young sons in a hallway. At the podium, Foer thanked Auster and the novelist Siri Hustvedt, who are also married and have lived in Park Slope for more than 30 years, for persuading him to move from Queens to Park Slope 10 years ago. Morris echoed that, saying the couple had convinced her and her husband to relocate, too.

“When we moved here, you couldn’t get brunch,” Morris said. “There wasn’t a coffee bar. But the Community Bookstore was here.”

Over the years, the bookstore garnered such a loyal following that in 2007, when then-owner Catherine Bohne faced a major financial crisis, customers stepped in with loans to keep the store afloat.

“It would be really sad if places like this folded up,” said Victoria Brazell, a Park Slope resident who attended the post-reading, wine-and-cheese party at the store with her husband, Bill. Brazell added that the event’s huge turnout was a sign that chain bookstores and e-books won’t snuff out indie booksellers in Park Slope any time soon. “I’m sure e-books are here to stay,” she said, shrugging. “I just can’t get into it.”

That’s good news for co-owners Ezra Goldstein and Stephanie Valdez, who took over the store from Bohne a little more than a year ago. (Bohne has since moved to Albania and blogs occasionally on the store’s web site.)

It’s also a relief to the bookstore’s original owner, Susan Scioli, who still lives above the shop. Today, the store is flanked by a toy boutique and an upscale wine shop. In 1971, Scioli opened the doors in this same location to a very different Park Slope.

“It was cheap then,” said Dzintra Zarins, 85. “It was also rooming houses all around. And they didn’t have that many eating places.”

Zarins, who bought a house in the neighborhood in 1961 for $19,000 and has lived there ever since, skipped the reading but stopped into the store for three new novels, including the latest by “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk.

“I’m a book buyer,” she said. “I have at home more than 2,000 books.”

Community Bookstore [143 Seventh Ave. between Carroll Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 783-3075].