Rack ’Em Up

Rack ’Em Up

T here’s a subtle addition to the décor at the Atticus Bookstore Café. Pass by too quickly when scanning the shelves for the latest hip college-town reading materials and you’ll miss it. Thanks to its large windows and tidy arrangement of books, Atticus is a bookstore you can browse from both inside and outside the shop, but it can be easy to overlook stuff.

It’s over there, to the left of the counter where books are purchased (a separate cashier area, as Atticus readers know, from the food counter on the other side of the store).

It’s a magazine rack.

Not a large rack, not a particularly eye-catching one, easily overwhelmed by the colorful covers of the nearby Atticus children’s book selection. But the modest display of a dozen or so periodicals is a significant statement in a city that still prides itself on its literary culture.

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The rack is there because there’s no longer a newsstand down the street. News Haven (and its previous incarnation, News Stand #2) occupied a storefront a block away from Atticus for several decades. News Haven closed its doors last month; the space will be combined with the vacant shop next door (formerly the Allegra print shop) and turned into a Panera Bread bakery/café.

At one point, there was a slim—and slimming—chance that News Haven would be saved. Architects considered cutting the width of the store in half, shifting a wall so that it would resemble the many long thin newsstands which still exist in New York City. The newsstand cleared its center aisle and prepared to rearrange its racks for the move. But the idea didn’t work out, and News Haven hawked its last paper in October.

News Haven offered the greatest breadth and scope of publications of any single newsstand between New York and Boston. The only real competition it ever really had in New Haven was the array of magazines stocked by Barnes & Noble when it first opened; when the Yale Bookstore’s two buildings full of stuff were combined into one (so that the Apple Store could move in next door), the magazine section was downsized to a single rack over by the store’s coffee shop.

Some argued that any magazine store in this day and age—not unlike the CD & record store Cutler’s, which also closed this year—is living on borrowed time. Why maintain a store to sell a product that can be gotten so much more conveniently in digital form online?

But, the counterargument goes, small cities like New Haven are all about “quality of life.” A newsstand is something you want and need downtown because of what it represents—community, intellectual activity—even if many people are getting that stimulation elsewhere. A wide selection may no longer be necessary. But maintaining an interest in magazines is essential.

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Virtually every literary snob in New Haven owns a computer, surely, but we are still a book town. Not too long ago, you could name any number of bustling bookshops in town, from the Foundry Bookstore on Whitney (now an office space) to Book Haven on York (now a frozen yogurt emporium) to Book World on Chapel (now a cookie store). There are far fewer independent bookshops now (and only one chain store—the Yale Barnes & Noble bookstore on Broadway, which replaced the Yale Co-op), but the remaining ones have found strength in diversity and are entrenched. Both Atticus (at 1082 Chapel, between York and High street) and the “gently used” book shop Book Trader (at 1140 Chapel St., near York) are as well known for their soups and sandwiches as for their literary stock, but the books are hardly just aesthetic window dressing for the cafes. People still browse, and commune, and read in bookshops.

As they did in magazine stores, despite the ubiquitous signs instructing them not to loiter. New Haven was once littered with newsstands. When News Haven was known as News Stand #2, it was part of a chain that numbered eight or nine outlets in New Haven alone. You could find large magazine racks at many bookstores, as well as just about any convenience store or bodega.

We may no longer have News Haven (or Cutler’s), but you can still find that quality of life in New Haven, not to mention the chance to purchase and peruse a publication that you’re not afraid to spill coffee or drool mayonnaise upon.

Customers have asked for years if Atticus could carry magazines, says the store’s Bookstore Manager Colleen Carroll. “Just to be neighborly, we didn’t do it, because News Haven was there. As soon as we found out they were going out, we started to carry a few select titles. We’ll be adding a few more. It’s been pretty successful.”

The Atticus magazine selection is select, to be sure—literary titles such as Book Forum, The Believer and The New York Review of Books interspersed with a few more mainstream mags like Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker and Harper’s, plus a few esoteric hipster titles such as Lucky Peach and Juxtapoz. “The basics,” as Carroll puts it. “If you get here early enough in the morning,” she notes, you can also find copies of The New York Times while they last.

Atticus has no aspirations—and no room, really—to expand its magazine selection much further. The one simple metal rack by the cashier’s desk will have to do. What it does, however, is speak volumes. It’s a tribute to voracious, tapped-in New Haven readers. It’s a testament to all the magazine racks that have gone before.

Atticus Bookstore Café
1082 Chapel St., New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 7am-9pm, Fri-Sat 7am-10pm, Sun 8am-9pm
(203) 776-4040

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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