We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.
Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.
There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.
One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.
It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.
How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.
Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.
One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.
Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.