Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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Classic Used and Rare Books Is Hub in Downtown Trenton Renaissance

Ellen Gilbert

There’s a real, old-fashioned shoemaker’s emporium (“we sharpen knives”) next door to Classic Used and Rare Books on South Warren Street in Trenton, and a traditional barber shop just down the block.

“He straight razors me,” said Classics owner Eric Maywar by way of testifying to the authenticity of the barber. Mr. Maywar’s bookstore is the real thing, too.

Besides the wealth of used books (“we have a little of everything”), Classics is a hub of activity, with poetry readings, knitting groups, young adult and kids’ book clubs, and cookie bake-offs, not to mention a Scrabble evening every Friday from 6:30 p.m. til midnight that attracts players from as far away as Manhattan.

Potential participants shouldn’t be put off, though, by the knowledge that people come long distances to play Scrabble at the bookstore, which is located in the thick of Trenton’s bustling downtown. “Everyone is welcome,” said Mr. Maywar, noting that the 15 to 25 people who show up each week represent all different levels of playing ability.

The idea of the bookstore as a kind of urban clearinghouse is no coincidence. Mr. Maywar works for the Trenton Downtown Association and was recently appointed to the Trenton Public Library system’s board of directors. Classics has been a community networking engine that has found jobs and places to live for people in Trenton.

“When people are at the movies, they’re just staring straight ahead, unaware of other people.” Mr. Maywar observed. “Here, you get people networking when there’s a place where they can sit down and relax and talk to each other.”

Mr. Maywar is delighted to be in Trenton, where his mother-in-law, Laurice Reynolds, assists him at the shop. After starting out with a bookstore in New Hope, he took on the Trenton site at the encouragement of the Trenton Downtown Association. Intending to keep them both going, he relinquished the New Hope site after a severe flood. He has no regrets.

“Business in Trenton is much better than in New Hope,” he commented recently as a neighbor from a new sushi shop on the block ran in to deliver his lunch. “New Hope was great in the summertime, but then there was nothing for nine months. Here we have residents and state workers coming in on a regular basis.”

Still it was something of a leap of faith to make the move. When he arrived four years ago, he said, there were still buildings across the street that were not only not filled, “they had no back walls — the pigeons lived there.” He happily goes in to describe the “boomlet” that has since occurred in the area, noting his wife’s favorite new clothing shop, and the constant parade of people in and out of the store.

Although he carries some pieces of furniture and fashion accessories like purses and boa scarves on consignment, books rule at Classics.

Just outside the shop discount paperbacks are offered for $10 a box (“box your own”). The first sign you’re confronted with on entering let’s you know that diehard followers of the Dewey decimal system don’t stand a ghost of a chance in negotiating their way around here: “Books on CD; Humor; UFO’s; Ghosts; Health; Parenting” are shelved in the first bookcase, according to the sign.

“We used to have jokes behind the book arrangements,” said Mr. Maywar. At one point he put “Parenting” and “Horror” together as genres. “Then I had my own kids,” he laughed, “and I figured they should be separated.”

A first edition of The Cat in the Hat worth $7,000 has passed through the store, where a $400 leatherbound Shaker manifesto is currently for sale. Mr. Maywar believes that there are no other copies of the Shaker book available in this country right now, saying that he acquired this one from a collector. While he trades for most of the books in the store, he said, he “will pay for real collectibles.”

One of his favorite collectibles is Evangeline Adams’s The Bowl of Heaven. “Adams was a psychic who told everyone the day before the stock market crash in 1929 that everything was going to be okay, and then proceeded to sell all of her own stocks,” he explained. Another goodie is Hunting Serial Predators, worth $450 to “the predators or hunters who are probably the only ones interested in it.”

Lest anyone think that book people are rolling in dough, Mr. Maywar noted that the store “doesn’t pay the mortgage”; thus his second job with the downtown association. The store’s role as a neighborhood player rather than a boon business can also be seen in the “free books” program he instituted for Trenton youngsters. Believing that children do better in homes that have books, he collects cash donations that make it possible for local kids to come in and simply take whatever books they’d like to read.

Mr. Maywar is also delighted about the inaugural issue of the Trenton Review, “A Periodical of the Arts” for which he is editor-in-chief. The Pulitzer Prize-Winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, whose work appears in the issue, will be among the artists who will appear at a Princeton Public Library program celebrating the publication of the Review on Sunday, December 20, at 2 p.m.

Classics Book Shop is at 117 South Warren Street in Trenton. The phone number is (609) 394-8400.

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