That shop was Bloomsdays fourth location. It started down in Brookside just north of 63rd, then moved to the corner space of the Crestwood shops, now an extension of Aixois French Bistro (operated by good friends of the bookstore). Then, in a bold move, owners Tom and Nancy Shawver moved the place to the Crossroads. They were a bit ahead of the curve after a year, they moved it back to Crestwood, where the Shawvers kept a smaller inventory and focused more than ever on maintaining the close-knit but open and welcoming social collective that had grown around the store.
The Bloomsday regulars fell into two groups: The first was longtime Kansas City residents of the cultivated, biography-reading, NPR-listening variety who, for whatever reason, found a personal affinity with the store and its star full-timer, Tom himself, a former marine, former lawyer, onetime candidate for public office, and a million other things that made him one of the best blokes to hang around with in the city for an earful of local tales from the past 50 years or so.
Tom, with his permanently tanned skin and love for tweeds and cable-knit sweaters, looks and acts more like a famous mountaineer or safari hunter than a middle-aged bookstore owner. He still travels to distant lands (Scotland, New Zealand) to play in rugby tournaments. Hes more of an adventuring, Hemingway type than a beatnik, Ferlinghetti type, which may be why drinking and bullshitting was the main activity at Bloomsday, not, say, slam poetry.
The second group of regulars were the Barflies, the inner circle, the guys for whom the store was their main hangout. There was never a bar in Bloomsday, but these fellas would consume cheap wine by the liter, which is probably how they got their name. I never asked, even though I was more or less one of them a junior barfly, perhaps.
I worked part-time at Bloomsday for most of 2004. It was at the first Crestwood location, a vast, drafty, beautiful space with windows on two sides and an inner door that opened into the Aixois coffee shop. I was fresh out of grad school with an M.A. in English lit and the self-esteem of most struggling fiction writers (read: zero). Bloomsday was a balm to my soul.
I remember the days when it was my duty to get there at the crack of 10 a.m. and open. I would unlock the door, switch on the lights, boot up the computer, load the register, put in a CD of jazz or chamber music or Britpop, ready the days book (a spiral notebook into which all transactions were recorded in mechanical pencil), and wait for the first customer to come in and ask if we had The DaVinci Code.
Every year, Bloomsday was the de facto host of its namesake holiday. In case youre not into James Joyce, Bloomsday (the holiday) comes every June 16. Thats the day in 1904 that Leopold Bloom walked the streets of Dublin throughout Joyces novel Ulysses.
The celebrations at the bookstore on Bloomsday ranged from Irish bands rocking out under a tent, followed by a nearly full-scale performance of a one-act dramatic rendition of the novel, to a relaxed day of reading aloud from the book and drinking from a keg of Boulevard Stout.
This past St. Patricks Day, the people of Bloomsday, under the reckless leadership of Tom, formed a tin-whistle marching band and entered it in the Brookside St. Paddys Day Parade before, mind you, making sure any of the marchers even had the ability to learn a musical instrument, much less play one while marching. Well, I knew my way around the tin whistle, sort of, so I was tapped to lead the crew and teach them the music.
The music itself was a hunting song that appeared recurrently throughout the Flashman books, a series of historic-adventure-comedy novels by George MacDonald Fraser, who died earlier this month. Tom had written a sort of fan letter to Fraser mentioning the song, titled Drink, Puppy Drink, and Fraser had written him back and included a photocopy of the music for the song.
A few months later, a crew of about a dozen barflies and regulars, armed with whistles and tambourines, took to the streets of Brookside screeching out the first 16 bars of the song over and over. In front of us was a group from a local foundation-repair business. They had a PT Cruiser and matching shirts with the logo A Dry Crack Is a Good Crack on them. Behind us, a team from Chipotle manned a giant floating foil-wrapped-burrito balloon. Caught between a burrito and a dry crack, we nonetheless made a strong showing. But regardless of the good times shared by its circle of regulars, Bloomsday Books had tremendous value as a local, private cultural institution something thats increasingly rare in our bulldozing, consumerist society. If this makes you feel at all sad, or if you just want something good to read, the bookstore is having its going-out-of-business sale from January 24 until February 10. Bloomsdays inventory of 16,000 books starts at 30 percent, with the discount increasing as the closing date nears. In addition to books, the store is selling off its shelves, display tables, furniture and other proprietary possessions. Be warned, though. Once you walk in, youll feel sorry you didn't discover the place sooner.