Fred Bass, owner of Strand Book Store, died last week at the age of 89. He was dressed in a Strand sweatshirt when he received a burial at sea, the store now says. The legendary bookseller will be honored next week at a public memorial where Gay Talese, Adam Gopnik, and Fran Lebowitz will speak.
Bass started working at his father’s bookshop at age 13 and grew it into a behemoth of books. In 2002, as the Strand prepared to undergo a major renovation, co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden told New York that haggling over used books was her father’s “favorite thing to do in the world.” The Strand thrived against all odds in large part because Bass still worked the book-buying counter four days a week, per another New York story. So it’s fitting that he was laid to rest in a red, vintage sweatshirt bearing the store’s insignia.
A Strand spokesperson declined to reveal details about the ceremony, citing the family’s privacy, but shared that Bass had long desired a burial at sea, partly for environmental reasons.
Last week, the Times published a lengthy obituary describing how Bass, whose bookselling father was rendered so poor by the Great Depression that he had to place his son in foster care, took over as Strand manager in 1956 and moved the store a block away from what was then Booksellers Row, eventually taking over and then buying the entire building at 828 Broadway.
“It’s a disease,” he told New York magazine in 1977, when the Strand had already built up eight of what would eventually become 18 miles of books. “I get an attack, something like a panic, of book-buying.”
Bass told the magazine that he had a habit of waking up at 5am every morning and reading for an hour. After that, he was all business. The article describes him “forever gripping a clipboard, an inventory, a list of requested books, crying out to one of his 65 painter-poet-writer-actor clerks, who at his bidding speed without rest.”
There’s a story, shared by the Villager, that when the Strand remodeled, Bass gave himself a nice office, but he never managed to stay put in it, and eventually turned it over to his bookkeeper.
There are no doubt plenty more stories where that came from, and the Strand has gathered some of them to be shared at a public memorial and celebration on January 24, on the store’s second floor. Starting at 6:45pm, food and drinks will be served, including Bass’s favorite white rum and ginger ale. Bass “saw the Strand community as family,” according to the invite, “and wanted those a part of it to celebrate his life with a party.”