A lot of people wonder what goes on behind the doors of Never Ending Books’ mysterious storefront at 810 State Street (near Pearl).
Roger Uihlein doesn’t mind you wondering. He keeps to himself a lot (though that hasn’t stopped him from being a perennial write-in candidate for Mayor of New Haven). The hipster hang-out he’s nurtured for over 20 years is similarly laid-back.
The Never Ending space—consisting of one long room crammed with bookcases, another room which serves as an art gallery and performance space, a small office area used by the Rainbow Recycling company, and a bit of a backyard—keeps a few regular hours. Saturday afternoons, for instance. But mostly it’s open on whims, or when someone’s asked Roger if they can use the space for a private concert (the Golden Microphone series has held shows there) or an art exhibition (big cartoon canvases by painter/impresario Tony Juliano are currently on display) or a jazz jam session (the New Haven Improvisers Collective has met there regularly for years) or a children’s theater project (the monthly Play in a Day shows, classic plays adapted and performed by kids in a single afternoon) or radical political meetings or meditation groups or sewing bees. The space has been the longtime haven of monologuist/playwright Steve Bellwood and experimental rock band Jellyshirts.
Never Ending has long been a zone for self-starter outsiders who need to create but aren’t always given the chance. It’s a comfortable nook for trying out new ideas, or for keeping quirky ones quirky. If the spark for a project hasn’t already struck, a perusal of the stacks of books, old magazines, sheet music, handmade musical
Never Ending Books
810 State Street, New Haven (map)
Sat-Sun 3-5pm, and whenever
instruments and original artworks which overwhelm Never Ending should provide inspiration aplenty.
Roger Uihlein’s role in all this is more mystical than managerial. A semi-retired carpenter, he’s maintained Never Ending for years as a gathering spot without a fixed center. He encourages, cajoles and banters, but he declines to set any standards or aesthetic. (He also declined to have photos taken of him for this article, insisting that Never Ending is its own thing and shouldn’t be represented by any individual.)
Reporters, calendar editors, promoters and folks who don’t get that not all “stores” keep store hours have dogged Roger Uihlein for details, offering unsolicited advice on how to manage Never Ending “better.” But Uihlein likes to keep his business low-key. He enjoys being the provider rather than the presenter, the conduit rather than the conductor.
But, for a change, right now there is something the press-shy Uihlein wishes to talk about: Never Ending Books’ neverending supply of books.
“I am interested in moving more books out of here,” Uihlein says. “Readership has fallen off. Readers of actual books are disappearing. People say ‘I have a Kindle.’ It used to be that people would come looking for Stephen King or Ayn Rand. Some writers are still somewhat popular. But I don’t know if anybody’s reading at all.”
That’s strong talk, considering that the price
of the thousands of used books which fill the front room of the shop has not changed in 20 years. The books are all free. Neverending has a donations box to help pay the rent, but no avid reader is allowed to leave the shop empty-handed.
“That said,” Uihlein continues, “the books I put outside for free do go away.” When the lights are off and the place is locked up—which can be fairly often—you can still find a shelf of books outside the front door, which are picked through and replenished frequently. “There are a couple of bookaphile people,” Uihlein speculates, “who’ll take all the books, who have rooms piled with books. I appreciate those people.”
He has cause to understand them. Never Ending Books has always been a place where books with a storied past may find a future. The East Rock neighborhood’s many graduate student residents leave town and can’t move all the books they collected for their studies. Critics contribute review copies. Culture vultures assure themselves that if Never Ending receives their cast-offs, their literary tastes will transfer by osmosis to others.
“The problem these days, “ Uihlein laments, “is that more people have a problem with the number of books they have. So they’ll casually drop off a box of books here. A box can be 25 books. That can take weeks, to get rid of a box of books.”
That imbalance needs to be addressed. The books need to be explored. Treasures unearthed there include the obscure literary journal Stroker (featuring contributions by Henry Miller and Seymour Krim), radical history and sociology tomes and an early paperback edition of the short stories of Nadine Gordimer, with racy cover art and the slogan “Stories that bare the human heart.”
“That’s my job here,” Roger Uihlein decrees. “To find a good new home for these homeless books.” You can help Roger Uihlein in his noble endeavor by stopping into Never Ending the next time you see the door open. Rekindle the lost arts of browsing and bringing books home.
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.