All in the Family: The Antiquarian Booksellers Benevolent Fund

Founded by booksellers, for booksellers. When a dealer experiences a crisis, the ABBF steps in.

Newton's Law: Books Fall Down

Newton's Law: Books Fall Down

The bookselling community is, in many ways, like any extended family. There are the favorite aunts and the blowhard uncles and the grandfather who sneaks you a couple of bucks when nobody's looking. There are brothers who haven't spoken for years and sisters who are practically inseparable, who hit the road together every couple of months, just the two of them, and no-one knows exactly where they go or what they do.

There are secret hidden grievances and secret hidden alliances, old scores, fish stories that have been told so many times (with each listener jumping in to correct the teller at every turn) that no-one remembers any more if the stories are true, or merely products of the collective familial fictive memory, tall tales made taller both by the passage of time and by the number of tellers.

Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays...

The thing about family though, no matter how dysfunctional, is that in times of crisis, blood tends to thicken, at least a little. You might be nursing years of resentment at how your brother (sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandma, dad) done you wrong. But when the going gets really tough — either for them or for you — family comes through.

Booksellers are — Well. Prickly sorts. It's one of the reasons booksellers become booksellers. They don't work well for others, by and large. They tend to be, with a very small handful of exceptions, sole proprietors, with at most a small handful of employees.

They tend also to work pretty close to the bone. They care about and believe in the things they sell. They are cheerleaders and proselytizers. But they are sometimes not the most (ahem) adept and sophisticated business people.

But they all got into this game for the same reasons: A love of books. A need to be independent. And a sense of pride in knowing they are doing something Good. Important. Eternal.

(Ask them, and they may deny that last. It sounds a little elitist, a little majestic. But I promise you it is true.)

The Dreamy Bookseller

Bookseller Dreams

Which brings me (finally!) to my point.

When something goes wrong for a bookseller — a flood, an illness, a fire — things can get tough, even desperate, very quickly.

Enter the family.

Enter the Antiquarian Booksellers Benevolent Fund.

The ABBF, which provides help in times of crisis, is a fund established by booksellers, for booksellers. Member of a professional association or no, when a bookseller is in need, the Benevolent Fund steps in and provides stop-gap assistance. And it does so discreetly, protecting both the identity and the dignity of the beneficiary.

It is truly a remarkable thing. All contributions are voluntary. Most come from booksellers themselves. The Fund represents a generous outpouring, from people who often can ill afford it, to help their colleagues — their family — sometime in the future. Should the unpredictable happen.

To the Rescue

Riding to the Rescue!

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that booksellers are competitors, that one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. And, certainly, there is a healthy competitive spirit alive and well amongst booksellers, as anyone who's received the sharp end of an elbow during set-up at a book fair or library sale can attest. And the glow that one bookseller feels when he realizes he's outwitted another (either through specialized knowledge or a sharper eye or a heavier foot on the gas pedal) — well, to be honest, nothing else can compare!

But we are also colleagues, in the fray together. We often buy and sell books or collections together. We dine together and drink together and sometimes even room together, or stay at one another's homes when traveling. We are more than friends. We are family.

Colleagues and Friends

Gentlemen and Scholars, Colleagues and Friends

Several years ago, a bookseller friend of mine, Elizabeth Svendsen (now of Walkabout Books), in Xenia, Ohio (population 25,000) sold her open antiquarian shop, Blue Jacket Books, to another friend, Lawrence Hammar.

Not long after, a critical water pipe burst, flooding the shop, destroying half the books.

The family swung into action.

Putting out the Fire

Putting out the Fire

Local people, Elizabeth included, came down and dried the place out, helped cart away all the ruined books, and gave moral as well as practical support.

A bookseller on Long Island, Hank Salerno, evangelized, alerting all booksellers near and far that a family member was in need.

Another bookseller, from Michigan, Mark Lambert, with books to spare, rented a truck and drove them to Ohio, where he handed them over, his gift.

IOBA, the Independent Online Booksellers' Association, gathered funds from its members to help Mark pay for the truck, gas, and motels.

And the Benevolent Fund provided cash, enough to keep Lawrence afloat, until he was able to reopen, in a miraculously short several weeks.

Happy, Hearty, and Hale

Happy, Hearty, and Hale

The Fund has given comfort to the (actual) families of booksellers who were ill, or dying. It has helped to rebuild bookshops in communities where the bookstore is one of the few public gathering places around. It has helped to pay medical bills, and water bills, and legal bills.

The Antiquarian Booksellers Benevolent Fund is a


If you appreciate your independent bookseller — local or online — I encourage you to contribute. You can do so now by Clicking Here.

Okay. I'm stepping off my soapbox now.

Thanks for listening.

Leaving a Legacy