The curated chaos of Jewish History
May 19, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Yisrael Mizrachi, a 28-year-old Sephardic Jew, runs a book store in Brooklyn through which the written flotsam of Jewish history flows. His mission is to hunt the rare and obscure. However, his store serves all, including the casual lovers of stories as well as seekers of pieces of their family's past.
posted by batbat (10 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
From the article:

Mizrahi asked if he had anything else, and the man told him he had just disposed of thousands of books. “But you didn’t want them,” the man said “They were old.”

This bothers me to no end.
posted by enamon at 7:01 AM on May 19, 2015


Mizrahi pays attention not only to the books themselves but also to the stamps of former owners, inscriptions in books given as gifts, and stamps of publishers or presses from far flung places, the markings of a map tracing back in history and showing how far books, and ideas, traveled.

All real booksellers - people that see it as their vocation - share this interest in and respect for the ineffable, quasi-magical, death-defying quality of books and paper ephemera, no matter what time or culture they come from. If you can figure out a way to survive on the menial wages, you get to commune with ghosts all day - sometimes beautiful, sometimes unsettling, but never boring.

I couldn't figure out a way to get by, and I still miss it regularly almost twenty years after leaving the business.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


To make a living, he explained, you have to sell between 100 and 150 books a day. The average $300 book will sit on a shelf for two years, so you need a stock of at least 50,000 to make ends meet.

Is there a decimal missing here, or does he need $30,000 to $45,000 a day to get by?

I'm a bookseller myself, and have no idea how, at whatever price, this guy could sell 100 to 150 books a day every day.

Maybe I should have got religion.
posted by crazylegs at 8:17 AM on May 19, 2015


I'm a bookseller myself, and have no idea how, at whatever price, this guy could sell 100 to 150 books a day every day.

The shop I used to work for moves a ton of .25-$5.00 books over the course of a week via Amazon and abebooks.com, and they have become their bread and butter. Throw in CDs and old prints, and I suspect there are many days when they ship 100+ items.

As the article notes, the internet obliterated the illusion of scarcity that kept prices relatively high in used bookshops for many average items. For many shops - especially those with rent to make - it seems now to be decidedly a volume business. My guess is that there is a lot of dross - maybe even non-Judiaca dross - piled around his shop that he's moving in bulk to support it.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2015


ryanshepard's got it. My uncle has a used book business, and the vast majority of sales are under $10. He does a lot of volume-- warehouse setup, with books coming in by the truckload and a conveyor belt with barcode scanners-- and for a while I would come in and pick through the books that were too old to have ISBNs, looking for anything interesting; the stuff that came up under $50 I bought from him by the pound and took to the flea market.

It was very rare to find anything really valuable, although there were a few cool ones. The best was an unassuming little brown book with a vellum wrapper, titled As We Remember Joe in gold script. It turned out to have been privately published by the Kennedy family for Joe Kennedy's funeral, and edited by JFK. Worth about $1800. I'd plucked it off the top of a bin out of curiosity; otherwise, I doubt anyone would have thought to check.
posted by nonasuch at 11:05 AM on May 19, 2015


I bought a book from him last month! Though I didn't know it at the time. Only $9.99, which is probably closer to typical than $300.
posted by Shmuel510 at 11:48 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


To make a living, he explained, you have to sell between 100 and 150 books a day. The average $300 book will sit on a shelf for two years, so you need a stock of at least 50,000 to make ends meet.

The mean lifetime of a book in the store is two years, or 730 days.
mean shelf-life (days) = 1 / sale constant (1 / days).

So the sale constant for his books is 0.0014 inverse days

The number of sales per day needed is about 125. To find the inventory needed, you'd take:

125 (books/day) = 0.0014 (1/days) * X (books)
X= ~90,000 books.

No, there was no good reason for this.
posted by pseudonick at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Though, if we're getting all mathematical, probably Saturdays should be taken out of the equation.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:34 PM on May 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you don't need the actual book, you can find an amazing number of things on Hebrewbooks.Org, including some quite obscure stuff.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:34 PM on May 19, 2015


Now I need to go dig out my Wise Men Of Chelm collection.

If anyone has other handy referents like Joe, in Australia, I'd sure appreciate them. Or titles! Always happy for more titles.
posted by LD Feral at 8:01 PM on May 19, 2015


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