Amitin’s Books faces its final chapter

If you haven’t visited A. Amitin Books, you haven’t seen what a St. Louis bookstore has to offer–or did. No Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstore could ever offer the kind of unique personalities scattered throughout Amitin’s stacks or standing behind its register.

Whether you steal away to the silent recesses of the store’s basement or get caught in the vortex of the nasal shouts of the store’s owner, Larry Amitin, there is certainly no other place like it.

This precious preserve of more than 70 years of buying, selling and trading used books, still stocked with more than a half a million items, is a must, not only for bibliophiles but for anyone who finds comfort in the ease and familiarity of that endangered city specimen: the independent business.

“Here we are, heading toward March of 2003,” said Amitin, of St. Louis’ multi-million-dollar Washington Avenue revitalization project, “and maybe (city leaders) wanted some national chains coming in, but that’s not happening. And the fact is, even if it was happening, there’s this conception of people in power that think: ‘Well, hey, if we get national chains in there, screw the little guys.'”

The landlord, David Jump, who originally threatened to terminate Amitin’s lease in April 2002, has now settled on an extension through the end of June 2003. Amitin says that Jump, who has been silent throughout most of the process, has always maintained that he did not need to give a reason for the eviction.

“I can put some of these books on the Internet, but the character and integrity of Amitin’s will be seriously destroyed. Our existence is seriously being threatened by all of this,” said Amitin. And what of the contents of the store’s holdings, which Amitin estimates at between $15,000 and $20,000? An enthusiastic Amitin says with defiance: “They will be donated. They will be sold. They will go to the four corners of the earth.”

Amitin is trying to take advantage of the time he has left, offering his space to groups that promote education and can aid him in selling his stacks before they need to be trashed. Most recently, he hosted a student protest against the looming war in Iraq, which drew more than 150 students from area high schools and colleges. The focus of the day was alternative education, founded in 15 workshops on a variety of social-justice and social-activism issues.

But even with an increase of special events, book sales and auctions over the last few months without enough money or space to relocate, this St. Louis landmark may be on its last bindings.

“We should have nice stadiums and nice restaurants, but all the merchants that made up this city and were here for years and years, the old businesses, made St. Louis what it is today,” said Amitin. “And now this business is facing a demise that is far below the dignity it originally had. There’s something wrong there.”

It would be difficult to walk into any St. Louis bookstore–or any business, for that matter–and find such a strong civic philosophy vivaciously incorporated into the essence of the business itself.

Yet for Amitin, his store will remain an active and important aspect of city life until it is driven from the landscape itself.

“They can’t start taking away your books and your art–these are all the foundations and the edifices of society. And a place like this is a living guardian of the knowledge,” Amitin added: “The written word preserves intellectual properties, and I think the written word is crucial–and that’s what Amitin’s does, for all times and places.”

A. Amitin Books is located downtown at 1207 Washington Ave and is open Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.