January 8, 2018
Fred Bass, owner of the Strand, has passed away at eighty-nine
by Stephanie DeLuca
With sadness, we report that Fred Bass, the man behind the beloved Strand bookstore, passed away last Wednesday at the age of eighty-nine.
In a New York Times obituary, William Grimes lays out the story of Bass’s life. Credited with turning the Strand from a small used book store into the massive, renowned emporium it is today, boasting “18 Miles of Books,” Bass began working at the Strand at the age of thirteen, when it was owned by his father Benjamin. Even after enrolling in college, Bass continued to work at the store in the afternoons; the only break he took was during his two-year deployment to West Germany from 1950-1952. Grimes describes Bass as someone who “swept the floor, organized the shelves, and visited private homes to scout out books, which he carried on the subway to the Strand.”
Referring to his long tenure and never-ending desire to keep the store running, Bass told a New York Times reporter McCandlish Phillips, “I got the dust in my blood and I never got it out.”
Bass took over as manager in 1956, quickly moving the store from Fourth Avenue—then considered a bookstore district with almost fifty shops populating the area—to Broadway at Twelfth Street, where it is still located today. As time passed, Bass continued to expand the store until it consisted of the entire first floor, the top three floors, and even an antiquarian department. In the nineties, the size of the Strand’s stock grew so large that the store purchased a warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Today, the Strand is the largest used-book store in the world.
In 1977, Grimes writes, Bass explained his obsession with expanding the Strands’ offerings to New York magazine: “It’s a disease. I get an attack, something like a panic, of book-buying. I simply must keep fresh used books flowing over my shelves… Tons of dead books go out nightly. And I bought ’em. But I just have to make room for fresh stock to keep the shelves lively.” We can relate.
As the number of successful bookstores has dwindled over the years, the Strand has continued to grow, thanks largely to Bass’s innovations. Satellite kiosks popped up outside Central Park and the South Street Seaport. The Flatiron district added an outpost in 2013, and Times Square features a Strand kiosk during the summer months. Always open to expansion, Bass developed Strand merchandise, including now-ubiquitous tote bags and tee-shirts.
As Bass once said to New York’s local news station NY1, “My dream was to get a big bookstore, which I’ve achieved.” For many NYC residents, it’s our own personal dream to have a big bookstore where we can get lost for hours, discovering unusual and unfamiliar books and authors, feeling at home. Fred Bass gave New York City that gift.
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.