Can This Bookstore Be Saved?

“Let me tell you our situation,” said Lew Rosenbaum, co-owner of Guild Books. “Guild started with practically no capital at all in 1979 . . . ”

Guild Books is one of our favorite places, and we called a few weeks ago to ask why it was trying so hard to raise money. Rosenbaum explained that Guild never managed to right itself financially during the good years and now needs to raise money fast or go under.

“One of the things we’re hoping to do is establish an endowment for certain sections of the store. For example, the poetry section is well-known. It’s not as well stocked as it should be because of our credit problems, but it’s the sixth best selling section of the store in dollar volume. But because our inventory’s so high, it doesn’t pay for itself even so.”

We asked for the clinical details.

“We have an average inventory of $15,000 in poetry. The average sales in poetry is about $20,000 annually. Normally, if you have a $20,000 service, you’d have in stock four or five thousand dollars’ worth of books.”

Given Guild’s stock, poetry would have to gross about $60,000 a year to break even. “The only way we’d get it to $60,000 is if we’d increase stock an equivalent amount,” said Rosenbaum. “The other way to do it is to keep sales as close as possible to what they are but eliminate stock that doesn’t sell. But to do that would cut out so many authors–local and otherwise–that we think are important and need to be represented. That’s why a number of people in the poetry community have said they’d be interested in sponsoring the section collectively. I don’t know if that’s going to work–it takes a tremendous amount of organization. But if they want to, we welcome it.”

In other words, we asked Rosenbaum, if one of your sections actually turns a profit, it’s because it’s understocked?

“In most cases that’s probably true,” he said. “The exception to that, probably, is Latin American literature.”

Last spring Guild issued an appeal that promised “for just $10 per month, we can adopt this bookstore” over the signatures of Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Andre Schiffrin, Jonathan Kozol, and Dave Marsh. These are the sorts of writers and editors whose books readers come to Guild to buy. When we talked earlier this fall, Rosenbaum had raised $10,000 and now was touting a $20-a-year membership in the Friends of Guild. “To really pay off our debts, we need $100,000 plus,” he said.

Is your stock in peril? we wondered.

“It’s reached an acute and critical level,” he replied. “Some publishers have been extremely supportive of us. Some publishers have pulled the plug. Anybody who comes into the bookstore unfortunately sees that.”

Rosenbaum just called back.

“Things have gotten really drastically serious,” he announced. “We had a drop of sales in October of 25 percent from last year. We just laid off five of the seven full-time store people. We’ve basically come to the conclusion that our targets are to raise $25,000 by the end of this month and $50,000 by the end of January to see us through. Otherwise, we could be a dinosaur.”

Dueling Dailies

It always takes time to sort out the facts and notify the family. But when a policeman is wounded at 11 o’clock in the morning, the papers assume they’ll know who he is in time for tomorrow’s edition.

Last week a young cop in Palatine was shot in the shoulder by a motorist whose car he’d pulled over. The gunman fled, and a manhunt commenced. It was a big story. At the officer’s request, the police department withheld his name. So did Northwest Community Hospital.

“We called them through the day. They consistently refused to release it,” said Colin McMahon, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune’s new Palatine bureau. This aggravated McMahon: the local Daily Herald also was chasing the story, and McMahon was sure the Herald would find the information a lot easier to get.

Among the Herald’s advantages was Anne Burris Gasior, a feature writer who happened to be Deputy Police Chief Walt Gasior’s wife. One of Walt Gasior’s duties is to handle the media on big stories.

“As a matter of fact, I talked to [Walt] Gasior last night about 6:45,” McMahon told us the next day, “and said, ‘We don’t have the name because you’re not giving it out. But I know the Herald’s going to have it. And I’m going to get grief from my editor. People will wonder why the Herald will have it and we don’t. Some people will draw their own conclusions.’

“He said, ‘Well, it’s out of my hands. The chief made that decision.'”

McMahon was right. The Herald did have the name, and Gasior knew that. But Gasior swears his marriage had nothing to do with the Herald’s getting it. After alertly posting a photographer at the hospital to snap the wounded cop as he was wheeled in, the Herald followed up with more staff and better sources.

Gasior says a Herald reporter came to him with the name of Officer Kevin Maher an hour after the shooting. Gasior wouldn’t say yes or no. That night the department stuck by its decision to protect Maher’s privacy, though it eventually decided to confirm what the Herald already knew in return for a promise not to bother Maher’s family.

“The whole issue of whether Gasior was playing favorites with his wife’s newspaper is patently absurd,” says John Lampinen, the Herald’s managing editor. “I can tell you quite honestly the Tribune was upset because we kicked their butts on the story. But we kicked their butts on the story by outhustling them.”

He went on, “We’re in a pretty bloody newspaper war out here with them, and they do a pretty good job. But I must say, whenever there’s a major story out here, we view it as a challenge that we can’t let anybody come in here and do a better job than us.”

Actually, McMahon understands this. “I think several [municipal] departments out here have a relationship with the Herald they don’t have with the Chicago papers,” he told us. “I mean, the Herald has been out here for 15, 20 years. The Tribune’s been out here nine months.”

Naming Kevin Maher wasn’t the Herald’s biggest scoop last week. That came buried in a Thursday feature on Jim Harbaugh. Jim McMahon and Mike Tomczak couldn’t stand me, the Bears’ quarterback told reporter Cheryl terHorst. He recalled playing in an ’89 preseason game against the Chargers, right after McMahon was traded to San Diego, and spotting Tomczak on the sidelines flashing the Bears’ offensive signals across the field to McMahon.

TerHorst wrote: Harbaugh said he confronted Tomczak. “He immediately said, ‘I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again.’ But I knew then what kind of person he was,” says Harbaugh.

This is a sensational charge and it should have led the story. A stunt like that could have gotten Tomczak thrown out of the NFL. But if terHorst, who’s not a sportswriter, didn’t quite know what she had, what excuse had Dan Pompei, who covers the Bears for the Sun-Times? Instead of pursuing terHorst’s story, Pompei merely lifted it for an item in his Bears Beat column on Friday. Worse, he didn’t say where Harbaugh’s quotes came from.

The Tribune picked up the story Saturday and didn’t mention the Herald either, but at least it got to Harbaugh for fresh comments. TV also got into the act, and terHorst says that what really galled her was hearing Mark Giangreco on Channel Five cite the Sun-Times as if that paper had broken the story. According to terHorst, the ABC announcers for last Monday’s Bears-Vikings game credited ‘a suburban Chicago newspaper.’ Well, that’s better than crediting the Sun-Times.”

We couldn’t reach Pompei, but we asked sports editor Rick Jaffe what had happened. “Basically, he was in a hurry,” Jaffe said. “It wasn’t intentional. There are lots of notes columns around the league. Writers trade information and things like that. But this was the competition, and he should have credited them.

“I was more disappointed,” Jaffe went on, “that he didn’t recognize the value of the story and start making calls on his own. He should have advanced the story.”

The Sun-Times ran a “clarification” in last weekend’s papers giving the Herald the credit it had coming. And terHorst was told Pompei would be writing her an apology.

Reporters’ Myth

A modern myth that allows journalism to flatter itself about its motives was just repeated by the Los Angeles Times’s Robin Abcarian.

“Gary Hart probably lost the presidency over his affair with Donna Rice,” wrote Abcarian in a story on sex scandals picked up by the Sun-Times. “His aspirations may not have been crushed by the act itself; he was done in by his dishonesty. Plus, he challenged the media to prove him wrong. The media rose to the challenge with glee.”

The idea that Hart challenged the media originated with this passage of a New York Times Magazine profile that appeared on May 3, 1987: “Follow me around, I don’t care,” [Hart] says firmly, about the womanizing question. “I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.”

That never sounded to us like a real challenge. It sounded like a brash reply by someone being badgered about his private life. At any rate, the Miami Herald staked out Hart’s town house the night of May 1.

Abcarian conceded that she was fuzzy on the details. “There was something that ignited the Miami Herald to follow him,” she told us. Yes, there was: an anonymous tip. Abcarian’s imprecise memory suggests the stakeout was an incident that reporters still find easier to rationalize than justify.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.