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Fred Bass, Owner Of Landmark NYC Bookstore, Dies At 89


So there was a time when I was broke and living in New York City, which happens to a lot of people at some point in their lives. And there was one small pleasure that I could afford. I used to go to the Strand, a used bookstore, and search through floor after floor after floor of used books and find something cheap to read that I didn't even know I wanted when I walked in the door. So here's a tip of the hat to the owner of the Strand, Fred Bass, whose father founded the business in the 1920s. Fred Bass died Wednesday at age 89, and NPR's Lynn Neary has this tribute.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: If you don't know what people are talking about when they go on about how much they love the smell of books, then you probably have never visited the Strand. Its smell is matched only by its creaky wooden floors and endless random stacks of books that beg to be explored. And once you start wandering through the labyrinth of shelves, you can pretty much always find a book you didn't even know you wanted, leather-bound classics mix with musty old paperbacks of novels that were popular decades ago. And no one bothers you if you want to hang out for a while and browse through volumes of art, architecture or photographs. Back in 1996, Fred Bass told NPR he wasn't sure exactly how many books were in the store.


FRED BASS: I haven't counted them, but we occupy four floors. And there's about eight miles of shelving, which we have figured out, give or take a quarter of a mile.

NEARY: Those miles grew to 18, a figure proudly touted by the Strand. Bass was just 13 when he started working in his father's store. During college, he arranged his schedule so he could work there every afternoon. He took a brief hiatus when he joined the Army for two years. In an interview with the radio show "From Scratch," Bass said he got hooked on books and took over the store even though his father discouraged him from doing so. And although the Strand eventually did sell some new books, his favorite part of the business always remained buying old books.


BASS: I'm a lucky man. I'm working at a job I like. I mean, I let my daughter run the operation and have her staff and everything else. I keep an eye on what things are going on, but I picked I'm going to work at that buying counter because that's the fun, that's the treasure hunt.

NEARY: Over the years, Bass found some great treasures, amassing a rare book collection along with the piles of used books that pass through the store, which he described as a hungry monster that had to be fed. It was a monster he loved dearly, as do the legions of book pilgrims who come there every day to see what treasures they can find. Fred Bass' daughter, who was already managing the store with her father, will carry on the family business. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.