Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops Writes Final Chapter in Proud History

By - Jan 19th, 2009 02:52 pm
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MILWAUKEE – After 82 years of bringing Milwaukeeans the most current novels, the world’s literature, nonfiction bestsellers and thousands of well-known authors, the four Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops will be shuttered after March 31.  The landmark company has been a family-owned and operated business since its founding in 1927, two years before the onset of the Great Depression.

Although the business not only survived that economic downturn but went on to thrive by adapting to countless changes in readers’ styles and tastes, it could not weather the current economic turmoil nor the dramatic changes in how people shop in the new century, according to the company’s president, Carol Grossmeyer.  Grossmeyer took over managing the business in 2007, three years after the death of her husband, A. David Schwartz, son of founder Harry W. and his wife, Reva Previant Schwartz.  After growing up in the family business, David formally joined the company in 1963 and assumed ownership in 1972.

“The successful business model of multiple bookshop locations that saw tremendous growth in the ’80s and ’90s was no longer effective in the 21st century,” Grossmeyer said.  “Profound shifts in how people shop and equally great changes in the book industry left many well-established bookshops with dwindling sales.  David successfully led us into the new century fighting for our ground. But the winds of change were gales, and at the time of David’s passing in 2004, we were a wounded business.  The most recent economic crisis was, for us, the final blow.”

The four Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops are located at 17145 W. Bluemound Rd. in the V. Richards Plaza in Brookfield; 2559 N. Downer Ave. in Milwaukee; 10976 N. Port Washington Rd. in the Pavilions in Mequon; and 4093 N. Oakland Ave. in Shorewood, two blocks north of Capitol Dr.  A total of 65 part- and full-time employees work at the four retail locations and at the Schwartz corporate office in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

“We are profoundly saddened by this difficult situation,” Grossmeyer said. “We all take great pride in the belief that the shops brought our customers the very best books the world has to offer.  I like to think that the bookshops have played a vital role in the intellectual life of our city by bringing hundreds of authors to read and share ideas, and I hope that we can take some small credit for introducing new writers to our city’s readers.”

Rebecca Schwartz, David’s daughter and chairman of the board, added, “The Harry W. Schwartz booksellers have been a vital part of the Schwartz experience.  Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have hundreds of smart, passionate and inspiring booksellers who enthusiastically conveyed the dedication to reading that Schwartz represents.  We consider many of our long-time employees part of the Schwartz book-selling family.”

Following the closing of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, the Downer Avenue location will re-open as Boswell Book Company in April.  The new bookshop will be solely owned and operated by Daniel Goldin.  Goldin has been with Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops since 1986, most recently serving as the company’s general manager.

“I’m excited about opening my own bookstore, but it’s still difficult to say goodbye to Schwartz,” Goldin said.  “Although it’s a bittersweet time for all of us associated with the company, I’m looking forward to using my Schwartz experience and continuing to provide Milwaukeeans – especially our many customers from Milwaukee and Shorewood – with the books and periodicals they treasure.”

In addition, the company is in discussions with Lanora Hurley to open her own bookstore, Next Chapter Bookshop, in Schwartz’s Mequon location.  Hurley is manager of the Schwartz Bookshop in Mequon and has been with the company since 2002.  Prior to Schwartz, she was a manager and buyer for Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., and spent time with Borders in Columbus, Ohio.  The new Mequon bookshop would be solely owned and operated by Hurley.

“Books and bookselling are my lifelong passion,” Hurley said. “I was privileged to work with the Schwartz organization the past six years, and I hope to continue many of the principles they practiced and the traditions they set.  I know Ozaukee County will miss Schwartz but I’m excited to provide area readers with a new independent bookstore.”

800-CEO-READ, Schwartz’s sister company, is continuing to operate and plans to release its first book on Feb. 5, The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, written by Jack Covert, the founder of 800-CEO-READ, and Todd Sattersten, the company’s president. 800-CEO-READ is an Internet-based business that sells directly to thousands of businesses and organizations throughout the country.

“We’ve treasured being part of the Milwaukee community, and we’d like to thank everyone who supported our business,” said Grossmeyer. “We truly appreciate your commitment to reading and independent retailers.”

Schwartz History

In 1927, after working in a Los Angeles bookstore for several years after high school, Harry W. Schwartz moved back to Milwaukee and opened his own bookshop on Downer Ave. on Milwaukee’s East Side. Before long, he would begin selling and occasionally publishing works by some of the most notable, and often controversial, American authors of the 20th century, among them William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  He defied attempts at censorship by selling literary erotica, including James Joyce’s Ulysses and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. In the ‘80s, under the leadership of David Schwartz, the Schwartz bookshops expanded into branch locations across the Milwaukee metropolitan area.

David Schwartz (July 15, 1938 – June 7, 2004)
“Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world.  The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.”

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