Tag Archives: bookstore

Bricks & Molder

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Encounter magazine.

The rustic charm of Jackson Street Booksellers is practically an undisputed fact amongst Omahans. Narrow and crooked aisles, packed with books, wind back into the store in a seemingly endless labyrinth, scattered along the way with haphazard stacks of more unshelved books. Piles of unpacked boxes brimming with new book arrivals, crowd the store’s front entrance. A peek behind the curtain into the staff section reveals more mountainous piles of unsorted books, subjects ranging anywhere from Christian artifacts to World War II history. The entire place smells like the dust that drifts off old pages, and ink—lots of it.

It’s somewhat hard to believe that this sprawling jungle of a library—a bibliophile’s nirvana—was nothing more than a decrepit vacancy on 13th and Jackson in 1993.

“The block was completely abandoned,” storeowner Amanda Lynch said. “No condos, no Upstream’s across the street. The windows were all blown out. Just one bookstore to pioneer the block.”

Lynch, along with fellow storeowner Carl Ashford, traveled the country first for a few months, then over the course of several years starting in the summer of 1992, they examined and handpicked books from various stores, sales, and collections from “one side of the country to the other,” in Ashford’s words. Although they picked up the book trade in their hometown of San Francisco, Ashford and Lynch eventually settled in Omaha to open a store stocked with the nearly 100,000 works they had collected. They were later joined in the business by Sara Adkisson-Joyner, a fixture of the store’s staff for 10 years now.

Lynch said they expected the store to last maybe two years or more. Almost 22 years later, Jackson Street Booksellers remains a hub of quiet activity for a variety of readers—which, according to its storeowners, is the fun of the job. Although Ashford admits that rare book-collecting can be tedious and time-consuming, new faces are a good way to keep his job refreshing.

“Everyday I learn something new, like Vietnam in 1961 or some thing,” Ashford said. “I like the idea that as long as I’ve been doing this, I know probably half of the one-percent I could possibly know, as far as books are concerned.”

Lynch agrees.

“I like the interaction with the people who come in,” she said. “This may sound corny, but in this business, you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s always a revelation to see what people are reading.”

As for types of books that Jackson Street amasses, Lynch claims they collect works from all subject fields, from a generic price range to “very eclectic, collectible books.” Many customers nowadays bring in books to sell, which are then hand-selected by the store’s three employees. Some purchases are house calls. Lynch recounts one time in which a customer offered them a collection of over 10,000 western Americana books that had been preserved in his family since the 1848 California Gold Rush.

Ashford notes that a handful of celebrities have also meandered through the shelves of their bookstore, most recently David O. Russell, the director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Ashford added that in a speech Russell gave at the Holland Center, he mentioned their store “quite a bit.” Among the other icons that have passed through Jackson Street are director Alexander Payne, comedian David Sedaris, classical pianist Emanuel Ax, actress Laura Dern, and “a lot of rock guys that come into town.”

Although both Ashford and Lynch refuse to divulge their favorite books over the years (“It’s like picking a favorite child,” Lynch said), the “world of book-collecting,” as Ashford puts it, remains fresh through the customers that frequent the store. Those who wander in request a range of reading material anywhere from classic American literature to Haitian history—or even books about the process of making books.

“It’s always fun to meet relatively interesting people,” Ashford said. “Especially younger people, twenty-somethings. When I first moved here, Omaha was kind of sleepy. There’s more young energy in the city now.”

As for more intriguing customers, Lynch cited one example she recalls in which a handful of farmers in overalls ambled into the store one day—and bought entirely heavy-duty philosophy books.

“It’s amazing how revealing it is about people and the kind of books they buy,” Lynch said. “Someone you wouldn’t know on the street is buying the most esoteric or racy or brilliant math book, and he looks like the most ordinary person. I’m constantly amazed by people.”



Legends Comics and Coffee

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Coffee is one of those things…” David DeMarco, part-owner of Legend Comics and Coffee, pauses as he tries to explain the welcoming qualities of the beverage. “You want to sit and read something? What better thing than to read a comic book with a cup of coffee?”

DeMarco joined forces in 2011 with Jason Dasenbrock and Wendy Pivonka to move Legend Comics into a larger space on 52nd and Leavenworth. A space fit for a new kind of comic book store.

Dasenbrock and Pivonka had been tossing around the thought of combining a coffee shop with their extant comics store. They put the idea to current landlord, Tom Simmons. “Tom wanted to do something that would bring in traffic to the location, and a coffee shop fit the bill,” Dasenbrock says.

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DeMarco hazards a guess that there may be fewer than 10 comic book/coffee shops in the nation. DeMarco, Pivonka, and Dasenbrock took their inspiration from Des Moines store Cup o’ Kryptonite, but by the time Legend reopened with its new vision in 2011, that retailer no longer ran a full coffee shop. “We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” DeMarco says.

Comic book stores can be intimidating for lots of people (the uneducated newbie or the wary female, for example), and coffee seems to be a natural way to bring in new fans. “This is not the boys’ club,” Dasenbrock says. “Everyone is welcome here, whether you’ve never read a comic or if you’ve read all of them.”

“You want to sit and read something? What better thing than to read a comic book with a cup of coffee?” – David DeMarco, co-owner

“We are not intimidating,” DeMarco adds, “and I will tell you why. I…think we are very nice.” Definitely a modest way of expressing his pride in a retail space that was created specifically for comic books. “I wanted to design a comic store,” he says. Thanks to local firm Architectural Offices, the shop’s custom shelves, lighting, and chairs say Industrial Art Gallery rather than Some Dude’s Basement.

In the same vein of making comics accessible to everyone, Legend hosts events like trivia nights every other Monday, raffles, and dunk tanks on Free Comic Book Day (May 4, mark your calendar). “We’re trying to be an advocate for the community,” DeMarco says. “Why wouldn’t we do fun stuff? And we have a room downstairs for games and for people to use.” It’s free for anything, from Magic tournaments to poetry workshops.

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DeMarco believes that some of the best reading material these days is in comic books. “It’s an untapped reservoir, and we will walk you through it.” One of his favorite ways of suggesting comics to the uninitiated is by quizzing them about their favorite TV shows. “If you like West Wing, try Ex Machina. It’s political intrigue with a splash of superhero-dom.” For LOST lovers, DeMarco recommends Morning Glories, a comic centered around kids isolated in a mysterious prep school. “Is it a government experiment? Are they dead? You don’t know!”

Legend runs a subscription service for those who want to have their favorite comics reserved and ready for them to pick up whenever they walk in. Then, maybe, they’ll order the Legend custom blend (or perhaps a Green River phosphate) from the coffee bar and settle in to lose themselves with Spiderman.

Legends Comics & Coffee
5207 Leavenworth St.