Monday, October 19, 2009

Storied 10 years for Spoonbill & Sugartown

Spoonbill's Jonas Kyle and Quentin Rowan are planning a 10-year anniversary party to remember.
Photo by Aaron Short

By Aaron Short

Working in the book-selling business for the past decade has brought Spoonbill & Sugartown co-owner Jonas Kyle in close contact with some of the stranger elements of human condition.

From perusing stacks of campy porn magazines in an Orthodox religious household to observing wealthy book collectors living in squalid conditions in Brooklyn, Kyle has discovered that not everyone in New York lives and reads the same way.

“When you buy used books, you realize how many people out there are pack rats, collecting books for 30, 40, 50 years and never throwing anything out,” said Kyle.

Kyle’s store, Spoonbill & Sugartown (218 Bedford Ave.), is slightly more curated than the collectors he has been buying from for the past 10 years. Originally from New York, Kyle moved back to Brooklyn in 1998 after his friend Miles Bellamy’s father died. Bellamy’s father, Richard, a New York art dealer, ran several art galleries in the 1960s, serving as a manager for minimalist icons such as Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Donald Judd, and Richard Serra.

When he died, Miles sold several works to finance a bookstore in Williamsburg and encouraged Kyle to help him construct the interior. Kyle stayed, and the two went into business together, forming Spoonbill in 1999.

Inside, books are neatly stacked and organized into unlabeled sections throughout the L-shaped store, enabling customers to get lost in rare first editions, art monographs and academic treatises while looking for the latest fiction best-seller. Art titles and periodicals greet customers on the right shelves from the Bedford Avenue entrance while music, followed by architecture and design sections, which segue into graphic design and typography, occupy the left wall.

“After that is our ‘thought’ section, which includes philosophy mixed with literary theory and Barack Obama,” said Spoonbill manager Quentin Rowan.According to Rowan, Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of American Cities” and “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde are among the more popular titles, as well as “Designing The High Line,” which is a paperback put out by the Parks Department, a collection of stories by Miranda July, and Werner Herzog’s diary “Of Walking In Ice,” which recounts his 1970s European trek to reach a friend dying of cancer.

This November, Kyle, Rowan and co-owner Miles Bellamy are releasing a book of their own to commemorate Spoonbill’s 10th anniversary. The book features photographs of the store’s most intriguing customers shopping for works over a period of one week. It is not likely to be a small book.

Kyle recounted a story about a customer named Sergio Jose Pena Gonzales who works in a morgue, whose father is a senator in Puerto Rico, and who would bring in old books from his personal library to sell at Spoonbill.

“One time, Sergio said, ‘You’re not going to see me anymore, I have two weeks to live.’ Of course two weeks later, there he was again,” said Kyle. “I’ve periodically banned him from the store.”

Then there was the Latino woman who came into the store, wanting to buy only Sergio’s books.“After looking at one book, she said, ‘Do you know something? I wrote this book in another life,” said Kyle.

Over the years there have been repeated episodes of visiting Orthodox Jewish households after a death in that family to inspect a particularly large collection amassed over several decades. In one home in Canarsie, Kyle estimated there were 8,000 books piled throughout the basement and bedroom of one man, which took days to sort through.

“The brother did not want us to be there. The brother who died was the favored child,” said Kyle. “While we were searching, he said, ‘If you find the ‘Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes,’ give it to me! That’s mine!’ Out of the thousands of books, he owned one. We never found it.”

On November 10 at 10 a.m., Spoonbill will be celebrating its 10th anniversary at its shop at 218 Bedford Avenue. There will be a brief performance by The Furies and The Ten Moments. For more information, call 718-387-7322.


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